Category Archives: What Runs Downhill

Here’s a map of the revised Phillips Road ULID

As we reported this week, West Sound Utility District has shrunk the boundaries of a proposed Utility Local Improvement District that, if approved by WSUD commissioners, would extend water and sewer along Phillips Road.

People who want to develop their land, including the owner of the Ridgeline development a the far end of the ULID, initiated the process. Originally more parcels were included, but a number of property owners objected to the assessment, saying they either didn’t plan to develop their land further, and/or they already have functioning wells and septics.

In response, WSUD took many properties off the map, but not all of those belonging to people who object. For example, the Clover Valley Riding Center is right on Phillips Road; it’s still in the ULID. The assessment on the property was reduced, however, since owner Jill Seely contested the calculations used to define how much of the property could be developed.

Here is a document showing the ULID boundaries for both sewer and water. The document shows acreage and how much can be developed, as well as assessments (total over 20 years) for each property.

The ball is now in the court of the ULID proponents, who must get a petition showing support from owners of at lest 51 percent of the acreage. WSUD commissioners will be looking for a much higher level representing “overwhelming” support, WSUD manager Michael Wilson has said.

I’ll be following up at the March 16 WSUD meeting the see if there is a petition forthcoming.

Any questions, concerns or thoughts, email me at

More on Port Orchard’s public records

With Christmas coming up in two days, how many folks are thinking about sewers? Or tap water?

If you have guests coming for the holiday, perhaps you’re hoping your pipes will handle the pressure — those extra showers and dishwasher cycles, those extra loads of laundry and loads of other sorts.

But most of the time, be honest, who really thinks about sewer and water, at least until you get your bill.

Speaking of sewer and water bills, Port Orchard’s rates for these utilities could double over the next five years, if the City Council takes the recommendation of a utilities finance expert, as we reported in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

The city’s utility committee has been working since May with consultant Katy Isaksen to calculate what it would take to bridge the “gap” between revenue from ratepayers and the actual cost to provide sewer and water services. The city also needs to do some major upgrades to both systems, according to the public works department. Those costs are built into Isaksen’s recommended scenario under which the average sewer-water customer would see their bill rise from about $100 in 2015 to more than $230 in 2020.

Notice how the formal presentation on Isaksen’s recommendation came after months of looking at the details and revising estimates in committee meetings. It’s no stretch to say committee meetings are where the heavy lifting of city government gets done. And the public is always welcome to attend.

One city resident who does pay close attention to utilities is Elissa Whittleton. She tries to attend most utility committee meetings and, in a Facebook post a couple of weeks ago she complained about a new (as of October) disclaimer at the bottom of the agenda stating,


I, like Elissa, did a “Say what?” about this, since materials for city council meetings are readily provided through links on the online agenda and by request as hard copy.

City Clerk Brandy Rinearson had an explanation. The bottom line is, you can get the materials (with a formal request), but some materials (of the kind most likely to be distributed at committee meetings) are exempted from disclosure, and like all public records, committee materials are subject to redaction.

What does all this mean?

First of all, Rinearson said, committee meetings are different from regular council meetings in that they don’t constitute a quorum of council members. Under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, any meeting of elected officials where there is a quorum (down to your tiniest water district) must be publicly noticed and materials cited at the meeting must be readily available to the public.

Why does this matter?

While committee members can hammer out policy and develop recommendations on actions the council might take at one of its meetings, they can’t take formal action. The council, on the other hand, can act on the basis of information in reports and other documents complied into a “council packet” that is often more than 100 pages long.

Don’t be daunted by that. If you are interested in a particular agenda item — as I was by the consultant’s report on the sewer and water “gap” — you can simply download it from the city’s website or ask for that part of the packet.

I had always assumed one could just as easily get materials from committee meeting packets and until recently they could.

What changed all that?

Starting around late summer, early fall, the utility committee was knee deep in discussion of stormwater rates. The owners of a B&B, who had concerns about how the proposed rate assessment would affect them, made a request for committee materials. Rinearson, as city clerk, was pulled in on the request, which included the couple’s earlier stormwater utility bills.

Under state public records law, private information like addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, social security numbers and the like must be redacted (whited out so no one can read them). Another type of information requiring redaction would be an attorney’s advice to the city, protected under client-attorney privilege.

So Rinearson realized that, even though the couple was requesting their own utility bill as part of the committee packet, technically, their privacy rights would be violated under public records laws. Rinearson told public works and other staff answering to the committee to direct any requests for packets through her as formal public records requests.

Public records is hot topic in the city of Port Orchard, what with the city of Bainbridge Island’s recent $500,00 settlement of a public records lawsuit.

Let’s now clarify that a formal records request to the city of Port Orchard can come in pretty much any form: via email, in writing and via a phone call to the city clerk’s office.

But wait, there’s more.

Some “preliminary materials” (discussed at any kind of meeting) are exempt from disclosure under the OPM, Brandy said, citing RCW 42.56.280. After reading the law and talking with Brandy, I’d describe these as documents descriptive of works in progress. But note the exemption for any that are directly linked to a formal action.

Exempt documents include, “Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memorandums in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended are exempt under this chapter, except that a specific record is not exempt when publicly cited by an agency in connection with any agency action.”

As an example of preliminary documents, note that the estimated increase in sewer rates was much higher at first, when Isaksen included all capital projects on the city’s list. Committee members asked her to revise the estimates factoring in just the most pressing sewer and water projects.

I asked Rinearson if the RCW isn’t subject to interpretation. It is, she said. In her training as the public records official for the city, Rinearson learned about a four-part test — based on a case reviewed by the Washington State Court of Appeals — which she and other city officials now use to weigh whether a record is subject to disclosure.

Records that meet the four-part test could be withheld, according to Rinearson. The test points are:
One — The records contain pre-decision opinions or recommendations expressed as part of the deliberative process.
Two — Disclosure would be harmful to the deliberative process or consultative function of the process.
Three — Disclosure would interfere with the flow of recommendations, observations, and opinions.
Four — The records reflect policy recommendations and opinions and are not simply the raw factual data underlying a decision.

Two and three seem subjective to me, which I pointed out to Rinearson. She affirmed that her department’s decision to withhold documents is always open to a legal challenge.

According to Rinearson, more than 95 percent of records requested are readily available without redaction.

Now once more with feeling, Port Orchard’s committee materials are available are available with a records request to the city clerk,, or by calling (360) 876-4407.

If you actually made it all the way through this post, congratulations; email me,, and I will add you to my unofficial list of local government nerds.

City’s classification of B&Bs could impact other home-based businesses

You can visit 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 for the area of impervious surface on their property divided by 3,000 square feet multiplied by the monthly rate.

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

Vacancy on board of Manchester H2O District

The Manchester Water District is seeking applicants to fill the unexpired term of a commissioner who is moving out of the district and will be ineligible to serve the rest of his term.

Kyle Galpin, who has served on the district’s board since 2000, announced his resignation this month, said Dennis O’Connell, general manager.

Galpin was selected to replace outgoing Commissioner Jacki Masters in July 2000. He was elected to office in 2001, and re-elected in 2003 and 2009.

“In his nearly 14-years of service as commissioner, Kyle helped guide the district through two management changes, critical infrastructure improvements, and an occasional billing dispute,” said O’Connell. “His experience in the water utility industry as an employee of West Sound Utility District made him uniquely qualified to address matters of concern for Manchester Water District, and we’ll miss his expertise, sound judgment, and good humor.”

The other two commissioners and district staff are grateful for Galpin’s service and “wish him the best in his future endeavors,” O’Connell said.

Manchester residents who live within water district boundaries are eligible for appointment to the vacant position. Meetings are held at 5:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month in the Manchester Library and are open to the public.

Letters of interest, due by April 15, should be mailed to board Chairman Steve Pedersen, Manchester Water District, P.O. Box 98, Manchester, WA 98353.

See options for Manchester’s “Stormwater Park” Tuesday

Kitsap County public works officials on Tuesday will present design options for a public park, to be located on county property with a new stormwater treatment plant.
The plant, to be built in 2014 and 2015, will add high-capacity stormwater treatment for the Manchester area and create a new community commons at the intersection of Colchester Drive and Main Street.
“Hearing from people about their needs and preferences for community amenities will help us to move to the next phase of project design,” said Chris May, Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program Manager. “The county is interested in designing features that will enhance the community and support the area’s stormwater treatment needs.”
For more information, visit
The meeting is 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Manchester Library. I’ll see you there.

Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter

Everything you ever wanted to know about that nasty odor in McCormick Woods

Port Orchard public works officials on Wednesday will answer questions about a major, long-term capital project to replace degrading septic systems within McCormick Woods.

A meeting is set for 6 p.m., with a second meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 5, both at city hall, 216 Prospect Street.

The development’s 605 poorly functioning septic systems use hybrid technology. The “STEP” tanks — for septic tank effluent pumping systems — draw off liquid effluent to the city sewer line. Solids remain in the tank.

The STEP systems were approved for lots too small for regular septic systems by Kitsap County in the 1980s, when McCormick Woods was in the planning stages. Because of how the system works, decomposition of waste starts in the tank, causing strong hydrogen sulfide odors and corrosion at the pump station. Corrosion from the STEP systems threatens the integrity of sewer lines and equipment throughout the city, Public Works Director Mark Dorsey has said.

The city will swap out all “STEP” systems within the development over the next several years. Replacement of the septics has been on the city’s capital sewer projects plan since 2010 and will be paid for out of a sewer rate hike implemented that year.

The need to replace the STEP tanks has nothing to do with the city’s 2009 annexation of McCormick Woods. The city inherited maintenance of the STEP systems from Kitsap County in 1994, when a community drain field was replaced by a sewer line jointly owned by Port Orchard and what is now West Sound Utility District.

The STEP systems’ malfunction also had nothing to do with a sewer and water rate increase in 2009, shortly after the annexation. Before becoming part of the city, McCormick Woods was subject to a 50 percent surcharge on sewer and water services provided by the city. Once the annexation was complete, the surcharge went away, and the entire city — including McCormick Woods residents — had to absorb the loss of revenue.

For more information, contact public works at (360) 876-4991.

Not that Horstman Heights development

Note: The hearing has been rescheduled to Nov. 1, same time and place.

The public can testify on a proposed development on Horstman Road at 10 a.m. Thursday.
The Kitsap County Hearing Examiner will consider plans by Sound Developers Group of Tacoma to build a 36-lot subdivision on 4.5 acres at 4217 SE Horstman Road. Developers are seeking preliminary plat approval for the property, which is zoned urban low.
According to planner Jeff Smith, the project should not be confused with a stalled development to west near the intersection of Horstman and Olney Avenue. The Horstman Heights project, originally owned by David Alan Development LLC, was for 54 home lots on 11 acres, but no homes were ever built there. Improper site development caused runoff from the property, resulting in a fine from the Department of Ecology in 2009. The property went into foreclosure and was repossessed by Whidbey Island Bank in July.
Smith said he encouraged Sound Developers to change the name of their project from Horstman Preliminary Plat to Prosperity Preliminary Plat to avoid confusion.
Files on the Prosperity development are available for inspection by appointment only 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the county’s Department of Community Development, 619 Division Street, Port Orchard. To make an appointment, call (360) 337-4487.
Written and verbal comments will be accepted at the hearing. For information, contact Karen Ashcraft at (360) 337-4487 or

City eats water bill

The city of Port Orchard is checking its roughly 6,000 water meters for accuracy after settling a dispute with the company that runs McCormick Woods Golf Course.

The city recently agreed to waive $780.16 in water fees that the public works department failed to properly record in 2010 and 2011. The undercharges came to the attention of the city’s utility committee this summer, when golf course manager Shawn Cucciardi attended their August meeting to ask about his bill. For reasons not clear in the staff report, C&M Golf LLC was overcharged by about $60 for water used so far in 2012.

The under-billing errors originated after a fire at the golf course in 2009, a suspected arson that destroyed numerous vehicles and equipment at the cart barn. The golf course requested a “service meter upsizing” with the new meter drop, but the new meter was improperly calibrated on installation.

The city has three types of meters that all look alike, Public Works Director Mark Dorsey explained. Without checking the serial numbers, it is possible for the worker installing the meter to incorrectly calibrate the system, he said. The McCormick Woods meter read the correct amount of water being used, but the correct usage was not picked up by public works employees’ meter reading equipment.

The city undercharged the golf club by $840.52. The utility committee, in its recommendation, subtracted the overcharge of $60.39 to arrive at the $780.16 figure. Chairman Rob Putaansuu said he felt like it was a fair resolution. John Clauson, a committee member, agreed.

“This was an error on our part,” Clauson said. “It took a long time for us to discover this error. … It certainly is our fault. It is the right thing to do.”

Mayor Tim Matthes and Councilman Fred Chang weren’t so sure. Matthes said that the statute of limitations on incorrect bills is six years. “We have the responsibility to capture that,” he said, adding that waiving the fee could set an unwanted precedent.

City Attorney Greg Jacoby corrected the mayor, saying the city has the option to collect, which expires after six years. But the city is not obliged by law to collect the money.

Chang said the amount of water consumed (and its value) was a substantial hit to the utility. “We’re not just your average service oriented company,” he said.

Chang said at the least the city should establish a consistent policy if other under-billings are discovered during the city-wide meter check. (None have been discovered so far.) Other council members agreed on this point but over-rode Chang, who alone voted against waiving the 2010 and 2011 fees.

Check Port Orchard’s water quality on state’s data base

In researching a story on Port Orchard’s water quality, I was introduced to the state Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water’s database on all systems in the state.

As you’ll read in the story, despite periodic episodes of discolored water in the Tremont Street – Pottery Avenue area, Port Orchard hasn’t had a report that raises any red flags with the state since 2004. That was for coliform bacteria, which a state DOH official explained to me is an “indicator” of possible contamination, calling for follow-up testing. In this case the follow up tests were within normal limits, said Bonnie Waybright of the Office of Drinking Water.

You’ll see a number of tests showing coliform bacteria through the years dating back to 1985, which is the extent of the online data. There are a couple episodes of e coli, including one as recently as 2002. Again, Waybright said, follow up tests showed no contamination with e coli.

My story explains the basics of water testing protocol and precautions taken for various types of contaminants, so I won’t repeat it here.

Linda Waring, DOH spokeswoman, gives the following tips on using the database.

“Port Orchard’s Water System ID is 68900. If you enter this number and leave the other boxes blank, it will pull up their monitoring history. You can also search by name. The tabs you’ll need are labeled “Samples” and “Exceedances.” Samples will give you all of their water quality results. Exceedances will show any samples that exceeded acceptable limits. If you click the sample number next to each test, the link will show you the exact results and the name of the lab that did the test.”

Waring says, “Discolored water is not an unusual complaint. Color and sediment are aesthetic concerns that do not pose a health risk.”

Here’s a link to a fact sheet that discusses color, taste and odor problems in drinking water.

The city’s proposed water rate hike is unrelated to the problems with well 9, which affect a relatively small geographic area and number of homes, said Public Works Director Mark Dorsey.

Contact the city’s public works department at (360) 876-4991 or (360) 876-2722.

Here’s a copy of the state’s certification of the water system.

The great Port Orchard water rate debate

Discussion of a proposed water rate hike in Port Orchard continued last week (Aug. 9) with a public hearing and sometimes testy testimony.

The council was to have continued discussion of the water rate increase at its Tuesday (today/Aug. 16) study session. But Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said that the deluge of public comment led the city’s utility committee to take a step back and recommend deferral of a vote on the rate hike until September.

Among those who commented on Aug. 9, city council meeting regular Gerry Harmon spoke on her proposal to charge by the gallon instead of the city’s current method of charging a base rate and adding a per gallon consumption charge above 5,000 gallons.

The city has 7 rate tiers. Each tier adds a higher consumption charge per gallon for the amount of water used above the tier threshold. That charge is added to base rate plus the maximum charge for the previous tier.

City officials say the utility must charge a base rate (currently $22.50 per month), because of the cost just to have the system up and running (no pun intended). In other words, it costs the city $22.50 to deliver even one gallon of water.

Harmon’s calculations were hypothetical, as if the city were to impose the rate increase. The city, in its response to Harmon, used current rates and its most recently audited data back to 2009. Treasurer Allan Martin said the city by law must deal in absolute numbers, not hypotheticals when making projections.

Both parties showed that indeed the price per gallon goes down the more water that’s used. Harmon’s calculations show the price per gallon leveling out at about 144,000 gallons. The city’s price per gallon leveled out after 133,000 gallons and increased slightly at 150,001+ gallons before leveling out again.

City officials, including Martin, met with Harmon before the public hearing to show their calculations and conclusions in response to Harmon’s question, “Wouldn’t it be more fair to charge a straight per gallon on cost?”

Harmon contends that the current system rewards high volume users, but there is no incentive for people like herself, who actively conserve water.

Of high volume users, she said, “Even though they have a higher water bill, they’re getting their water for less per gallon than the other people. To me it says use it right up to your limit.”

The propose rate hike does offer a discount to people who use less than 3,000 gallons per month. But there is no conservation incentive throughout the 7 tiers.

Martin, in a memo to Harmon and the city’s utility committee, outlines three possible methods for promoting conservation:
-> An increasing block rate, with the users in the first block charged at one rate, the users in the second block charged more and so on
-> High use surcharges, essentially a punishment for higher than average water use
-> Seasonal rates, in which prices rise and fall according to water demand and weather conditions

But Martin said any city must be careful with conservation incentive programs. Generally, the higher volume users have more ways and more leeway to conserve water, while residential users’ needs — based on number of people in the household and other relatively fixed factors — don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Conservation programs actually could have the unintended consequence of placing more of the burden on residential users, Martin said.

Utilities, like water, sewer and stormwater, by law must be run as separate funds from the city’s (or county’s) general fund, and they must be self-sustaining. Revenue from the utility must support delivery of the service without subsidy. So the city is limited in how much it can alter rates without running in the red, Martin said. The city’s water service has been running in the red, utility committee members say, and the purpose of the rate hike is to get back in the black.

The city has a rate formula designed so that each group of users (residential, commercial, city, other government, churches and irrigation) bears its proportionate share of the cost to run the whole utility. The percentages fluctuate a few points either way, from year to year, Martin said, but generally the formula works out.

In 2010, residential users, who as a group consumed just more than 67 percent of the water, paid nearly 69.5 per cent of the total cost. In 2009, however, the group used nearly 69.6 percent of the water and paid just more than 59 percent of the total revenue to the water fund.

In 2010, commercial users consumed 19.72 percent of the water and paid 18.82 percent of the revenue; in 2009, they consumed 18.90 and paid 21.07.

Harmon said she was frustrated that it took this long to get the city to actually run the numbers, and she doesn’t buy the thing about the hypotheticals. She’d like to see the city’s calculations using figures proposed by the utility committee.

Those figures could change, and if the committee’s move back-to-the drawing board is any indication, they are likely to do so.