The Bonney Lake City Council has reversed its position on an impact fee deferral program for single family home developers.
The program was defeated in a 4-2 vote during the Aug. 23 council meeting after Councilman Dan Swatman argued that the program, mandated by the state, was unconstitutional under the state constitution.
Swatman said that deferring impact fees was essentially a loan, and cities loaning money is explicitly addressed in the state constitution.
“‘No county, city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give any money, property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual association, company or corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm,'” Swatman said, quoting the state constitution.
Kathleen Haggard, the city’s attorney, said that the impact fee deferral program is not an unconstitutional loan, and not adopting the program put the city at odds with the state.
The issue resurfaced during the Sept. 6 council workshop when Councilwoman Katrina Minton-Davis asked staff what consequences the city could be facing if the council did not enact the program.
Haggard said the city’s insurer, which occasionally audits the city’s code to make sure it is in compliance with the state, could mandate that the city enact the program to bring the city back into compliance.
Grant money is another issue, Haggard continued, saying that many grants come with the stipulation that the city must be in compliance with the state in order to receive money.
But the biggest issue is that with the city out of compliance with the state, it opens up the possibility that the city can be sued by a developer looking to defer their impact fees.
“Somebody that is seeking a deferral and is not able to obtain one could potentially sue the city… to get a judge to order the building official to grant a building permit,” Haggard said. “I’m very concerned about putting staff in the position of having to deny building permits in violation of state law.”
Haggard said it would be possible for the council to argue that deferring impact fees could impact the city financially, and to make up for this, charge a larger administrative fee than the proposed $200 in the original ordinance.
However, the council did not pursue this option when the program came back as a different ordinance on the council’s agenda during the Sept. 13 meeting.
The program, officially designated Ordinance D16-113, was approved unanimously by the council, although Swatman was silent during the vote. Under council rules, a silent vote counts as a yes vote, City Administrator Don Morrison wrote in an email interview.
Despite the council passing the ordinance, some council members and Mayor Neil Johnson remained skeptical of the legitimacy of the state’s mandate.
“What we could do is ask our local senator or representative to ask for an opinion ruling from the attorney general,” Johnson said near the end of the workshop discussion on Sept. 6. “I’d like to see the state weigh in on something they’re mandating us to do. I’d like to see some clarification. Let them stand up for it.”
The council also approved the Master Plan for Allan Yorke Park to makeover the popular city park, which is expected to cost upward of $16.3 million as the city plans to expand the park, install additional sport fields, construct two dog parks and bring in a new BMX track.