Enumclaw residents have an opportunity to meet with potential future Drainage District 5 commissioners next week, though a little travel will be necessary.
The King County Council’s Local Services Committee will be interviewing David Ballestrasse, Mark VanWieringen, and Chief Alan Predmore of the Buckley Fire Department during their next regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, June 24 at 1:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the King County Courthouse at 516 3rd Avenue in Seattle.
These three locals are not yet confirmed as commissioners of Drainage District 5, a special purpose tax district charged with maintaining roughly 18 miles of drainage ditches in the north-east corner of Enumclaw; they have merely been nominated as commissioners by King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, who also serves on the Local Services Committee.
Normally, Drainage District 5 would hardly make headline news, but former Commissioner Allan Thomas is under several investigations for allegedly stealing more than $413,000 from Enumclaw taxpayers over the last seven years, money that was supposed to go toward ditch maintenance.
Thomas is also alleged to have ignored state laws regarding special purpose tax district elections, as he’s held his public seat since the late 1980s with no elections since.
Dunn had expected to introduce legislation to the King County Council to remove Thomas and another commissioner not under investigation to force them out of their seats, but both men decided to resign mid-May.
This paved the way for the council to nominate new commissioners; Ballestrasse and VanWieringen were already Dunn’s choice of potential replacements by the time the former commissioners resigned, and Predmore was one of several people who answered Dunn’s invitation to step up as a commissioner in his letter to district residents.
Historically, Drainage District 5 had an annual budget of between $70,000 and $80,000, collected from roughly 600 landowners that live in district limits.
It is unclear if future budgets will be similar, as previous budgets were based on work Thomas alleged was being performed on drainage ditches — work that an Enumclaw Police Department investigation and a Washington State Auditor’s Office claim hasn’t happened since 2012.
However, new county rules now allows the King County Executive Office to perform compliance reviews of not just Drainage District 5, but other special purpose tax districts as well.
These reviews don’t give the executive office any enforcement powers, but does give the system a little more accountability, since it was in part a lack of county oversight that allegedly allowed Thomas to submit invoices to the King County Treasurer without having to prove ditch maintenance work was being done.
It’s also unclear whether Thomas will be forced to reimburse Drainage District 5 some of the money he allegedly took — as of June 17, charges against him have not been filed by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two offices that have opened up investigations into Thomas.
If Thomas is forced to pay restitution, Dunn said Drianage District 5 could potentially only see a small fraction of the money Thomas allegedly misappropriated, as the state has a three-year statute of limitations for restitution of improperly-collected tax funds.
And even then, future Drainage District 5 commissioners may decide to use that money to perform drainage ditch maintenance, as opposed to giving it back to its residents.
DRAINAGE DISTRICT 6, 13
While the spotlight has shined on Drainage District 5 since a King 5 news story about the allegations against Thomas broke in late April, Drainage District 6 and 13 have been caught in the crossfire.
Drainage District 6 covers lands south-east of state Route 410, while District 13 is north of Enumclaw from SE 416th Street up to the Bass Lake complex, and on the east side of 264th Avenue SE.
Since the investigations into Drainage District 5 started, all commissioners for District 6 and 13 have also resigned or have been removed by the King County Council.
While none of these other commissioners have been reported to be under investigation, a June 5 King 5 story revealed none of King County’s seven drainage districts have had an election since 2000.
Letters have already been sent out to all three district residents announcing the commissioner seat vacancies. In District 6, Dunn plans to nominate Cathy Dahlquist, a former Washington state legislature representative, former commissioner John Koopman and local Kenneth Bosik; in District 13, the nominees are Jim Puttman, John Millarich, and Brad Goodwin.
While the Local Services Committee meeting on June 24 will focus on the District 5 nominees, the other nominees are expected to be interviewed on July 8.
The King County Council has not announced when it will have a vote officially appointing these nominees.
HOW TO BECOME A COMMISSIONER
It’s not too late for other Enumclaw residents to get involved with their local drainage districts, even after the nominated commissioners take their seats.
First, you have to not only be a resident of the district you want to represent, but you have to own land in the district as well.
Then to have to file for election with King County Elections between 30 and 60 days before the next election, which by state law will be Feb. 4, 2020.
According to Dunn’s office, drainage district commissioners are typically not compensated for their work, although “state law allows for nominal compensation on a per diem basis,” Dunn’s letter to Enumclaw residents reads.