You can visit kitsapsun.com later this evening to see how and why the Port Orchard City Council voted Tuesday to increase stormwater rates.
The lead up to this we’ve covered extensively, and last night’s vote was a long time coming.
Due to space constraints, I was not able to elaborate on an issue that arose out of the utility committee’s discussion in June of how bed and breakfasts should be assessed in the stormwater utility.
Here’s a little background you’ll need:
Stormwater charges are based on impervious surface units, with one ISU defined as 3,000 square feet of impervious surface, such as roofs or pavement. Residential accounts, all deemed to comprise one ISU, are charged a flat monthly rate, as specified in the city’s code.
Commercial businesses and multifamily dwellings are assessed the monthly rate times the actual number of impervious surface units on their property divided by 3,000 square feet.
And here’s the long version of the second half of the story that explains how, in one attorney’s opinion, the reclassification of B&Bs as commercial could have far-reaching impacts on all of the city’s homebased businesses.
“Gil and Kathy Michael, owners of Cedar Cove Inn B&B, seconded a suggestion that ratepayers be credited for putting rain gardens, pervious pavement and other stormwater treatment systems on their properties.
The Michaels were required to mitigate stormwater runoff during
an earlier expansion of the historic home above Bay Street from
which they do business.
And the couple had another problem with the proposal, given that the Cedar Cove Inn has been reclassified as a commercial property.
At the June utility committee meeting, members discussed how B&Bs are assessed in the stormwater utility. The committee considered a suggestion from staff that they should be classified as commercial for accounting purposes.
“The way we handle the code and the way the account is set up is if you have a business license, even if it is a home-based business, you are technically commercial,” said Andrea Archer Parsons, assistant city engineer.
Of the city’s three B&Bs, only Cedar Cove would be significantly impacted, the committee realized. They asked staff to see how other cities classify B&Bs for stormwater assessments, and the report was presented Aug. 19 to the full council but no action was taken.
On June 10, the Michaels got a notice saying their B&B would be assessed as a commercial property “due the fact that they are required to have a business license.” On Oct. 15, they got a notice saying they would be charged for four ISUs.
Their attorney Gary Chrey on Tuesday argued that by extension the “commercial property” rule could apply to all of the city’s home-based businesses, and that could have unintended consequences beyond higher utility rates. He listed higher real estate taxes and more onerous building code requirements among a litany of results.
Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said he didn’t know where that wording came from and that it needed to be looked at.
Chrey also took issue with wording in the city’s code that defines commercial property as “all property zoned or used for commercial, retail, industrial or community purposes.” The key words here are “or used,” which technically broadens the definition of commercial. Chrey asked that the code be reworded so the classification is based on zoning only.
“I think we still need to do some work, based on what I’ve heard here tonight. We have issues that are related to the increase,” Councilman John Clauson said.
But the council didn’t want to delay the increase entirely and put the city at risk of falling out of compliance with escalating federal water quality standards.
Councilman Rob Putaansuu proposed a one-year graduated increase from the current $7 per month to $9.70 per month on Jan. 1 and $14 per month on June 1 as a way to buy some time to sort out the complicating issues. The increase to $14 is needed, Putaansuu and others say, to fund capital projects that would control flooding and improve water quality.
Putaansuu, John Clauson, Jeff Cartwright and Jerry Childs voted for the ordinance. Fred Chang, Bek Ashby and Cindy Lucarelli voted against it.
Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter