In somewhat of a surprise 4-3 vote, the Bonney Lake City Council Tuesday night voted down a utility latecomers agreement that would have put sewers in the Eastown section of Bonney Lake.
The council members voting against the measure were Mark Hamilton, Randy McKibbin, Katrina Minton-Davis and Tom Watson. Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman and council men Jim Rackley and Donn Lewis voted in favor of the agreement. Mayor Neil Johnson also supported the agreement.
Opponents of the measure said there was too much risk and worried the city would not make its money back on the investment and did not think the 5 percent buy-in by the landowners was enough.
“We’re speculating with public money,” Minton-Davis said. “I’m having a hard time seeing how this is in the public’s best interest.”
Supporters said the project was too important to the future of the city that despite some misgivings toward the agreement, they would support it.
“The sewer has to be done before we do other things,” Swatman said, calling the city “just the bank.”
“They supposedly will pay us back,” he said.
City staff, council and landowners in the area have been working for several years on an agreement that would build a backbone sewer line through that area of the city. Under a latecomers agreement, the city and the Eastown Landowners LLC would pay up front for the system to be built and anyone tying into it through development would pay back the city and the landowners for their initial contributions.
But several council members also mentioned a comment from landowners during the public hearing on the issue that they characterized as “demands” and seemed particularly put off by the tone of the comment.
During the discussion, Hamilton emerged as the swing vote, and though he seemed in support of the agreement previously, Hamilton spoke about the risk and then said he felt the deal was too one-sided and he had to protect the ratepayers. He also specifically mentioned the comments from the previous meeting and said that if he was in business and was putting in 95 percent, he would lose a 5 percent partner who seemed to have as many complaints as the Eastown landowners do.
“You just don’t do business that way,” he said.
Swatman said he agreed with Hamilton’s thoughts about the LLC’s complaints and agreed the city’s partner was “difficult” but agin reiterated what he saw as a “critical path issue” for the city.
Development has been stalled in Eastown, partially because the area lacks sewer lines and city code requires all new businesses to hook into the system, even if it means installing additional lines and lift stations from where the system presently ends to their property. Landowners have complained that developers do not want to buy their land because of the additional cost of sewer installation.
The total cost is estimated near $4 million.
Last year, the council approved a measure lowering the minimum city investment in a latecomer’s agreement – in which the city fronts the cost of the sewers and is paid back through charges when parcels develop and attach – to 5 percent particularly with this deal in mind.
The Eastown Landowners LLC, created specifically for this project because the council asked the landowners to speak with a single voice, would have contributed $201,105 of the initial cost.
Eastown landowner Roger Watt, who owns the Emerald Links Driving Range, generally acts as the unofficial spokesman for the LLC. Watt, speaking not for the LLC, but solely for himself said landowners were “upset,” in the vote, but said he believes there has been a “terrible misunderstanding” over his comments at the previous meeting.
“I do think clarification needs to be made that there were no demands,” he said.
During the public hearing July 10, Watt addressed the council with a series of concerns from the landowners, mainly over timing of when they would deliver a check, which the agreement states would come within 30 days of the vote, but council members wanted more assurance of before approving the measure and promised to deliver a check the day the council approved and them mayor signed the contract.
Watt’s comment also contained a section about “potential inequality” because not all of the landowners in the region are part of the group and therefore paying in to the sewer system and asked for clarification of the contract paragraph regarding the reimbursement of the LLC’s money.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Neil Johnson spoke in support of the agreement and thanked city staff for their work on the measure, adding that is was “something I feel is needed.”
The council also discussed re-visiting the ban on developing land with septic systems as a work-around for Eastown, but no specifics or timing was discussed.
Watt said he was not sure what was next for the landowners and declined to comment on the future of the LLC before discussing it with other members.