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Regional News

State considering bill that would bar some Spokane from collecting utility fees from county residents

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Spokane’s city council wants to enforce a tax on revenues for a sewage plant within city limits.

The tax would apply to people who live outside the city, and one state lawmaker said that isn’t fair. He’s filed a bill to stop it.

The tax would affect an estimated 50,000 residents of Spokane Valley and people in unincorporated Spokane County, who are not represented on the Spokane city council. Their utility bills would go up by an estimated $12.50 a month.

Republican state senator Mike Padden, who represents Spokane Valley, is sponsoring a measure that exempts county-owned sewer and water facility revenues from any tax imposed by a city.

“What the bill is saying is, ‘Hey, we really don't want taxation without representation,’” he said. “The bill would clarify the situation that this tax going from zero to 20 percent could not be imposed.”

The utility tax was adopted in 1998, thirteen years before the sewage plant was built. But it was never applied to the facility; Spokane city council members are asking Mayor Nadine Woodward to do so. Woodward has so far resisted that request.

Council president Breean Beggs said it was not a secret when the plant was constructed that it could be subject to the tax:

“In this case, these ratepayers who would be subject did have representation,” he said, “They had government leaders they elected who chose to put the sewage treatment plant in the city of Spokane for whatever financial or engineering reasons they wanted to do. They knew there was a tax, that this was there, and they didn't resolve it.”

County Commissioner Al French was on Spokane’s city council when the tax was adopted. He said it was never assumed the city would try to apply the utility tax to the new treatment plant.

“If the imposition of the city's utility tax was an issue at the time, the county would have selected another site,” he said. “There was a time in the 1990's when the city did levy the tax on the county portion of the joint facility, but when discovered the city removed the tax. The county facility opened in 2011, and the utility tax has not been imposed.”

Some valley and county officials say if the tax is enforced, they will sue to have it stopped. Padden’s bill is now before the Washington Senate Housing and Local Government Committee.