City considers overseeing water, sewer service for all Issaquah residents
June 26, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
City and Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District officials could end up at loggerheads as the city embarks on a study to assume water and sewer service for the portion of district customers inside Issaquah city limits.
Issaquah officials budgeted $300,000 to study expanded utility service for the entire city. State law encourages municipalities to assume utility services in neighborhoods located inside city limits.
City officials said such a changeover could reduce confusion among customers and enable municipal government to better manage the water and sewer system inside city limits.
Such a change could lead to a showdown between the city and the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District, because the district is bound to shed hundreds of ratepayers if the city expands water and sewer service to all Issaquah residents.
The project has already strained the relationship between the city and the district.
“I’ve been here about a year and a half, and until this, I would describe it as cordial,” district General Manager Jay Krauss said. “I have not experienced anything that would lead me to believe there were any issues between the district and the city.”
District officials said the existing arrangement is beneficial to the overall district and customers inside Issaquah city limits. The district could pursue legal action to slow or halt any assumption initiated by Issaquah.
The eventual impact on utility rates for city and district customers is likely to remain unknown until the study is completed by early next year.
Under a patchwork established by annexations, Issaquah municipal government does not provide water and sewer service to the entire city.
Bellevue provides water and sewer service to the Greenwood Point and South Cove areas along the south Lake Sammamish shoreline. North Issaquah neighborhoods, including Providence Point and numerous neighborhoods north of Interstate 90, sit inside Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District boundaries.
Overall, the district serves more than 16,000 customers in Issaquah, Sammamish and unincorporated King County.
Bellevue is not expected to challenge any assumption initiated by Issaquah. In recent years, Bellevue officials asked Issaquah officials if they are interested in providing water service in Greenwood Point and South Cove.
“Since we’ve taken over streets, storm water and all the other services in the area, they’re asking us if we’re interested in the other,” Issaquah Public Works Engineering Director Sheldon Lynne said. “They’ve been asking that since the land was annexed into the city” in 2006.
District officials outline alternatives
The latest effort is meant to identify projects needed to improve water infrastructure in the areas served by entities other than Issaquah.
“This study is similar to how the city does its annexation studies,” Lynne said. “It effectively evaluates the impacts of assuming the responsibilities of these services on the city’s resources, as well as on the citizens. It’s a complete picture of what the impacts would be and the cost of those impacts.”
The city selected consultant RH2 Engineering to conduct the study.
Lynne said expanded utility service could reduce confusion for Issaquah residents not served by the municipal water and sewer utility.
“We do periodically get calls from people about their water or sewer service, and we have to refer them to the other jurisdictions,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s everybody, but we periodically get that, and then we have to coordinate our capital projects and other infrastructure works with outside agencies.”
But changes outlined in the study could pose complications for the city, especially if the district challenges any assumption.
“It’s really difficult to make these decisions unilaterally, because, first of all, the types of the things that would have to occur as a result of what they’re proposing — it requires changes to contracts and bond covenants — there are all kinds of things that the city can’t make a sole decision about,” district Commissioner Lloyd Warren said. “They have to really involve the district.”
Warren also addressed the Issaquah City Council about the proposed change.
If Issaquah does proceed on a campaign to assume water and sewer service for all customers inside city limits, the proposal requires approval from the King County Boundary Review Board.
“We’ve got five governments involved — two water districts, two cities and the county — servicing the greater Issaquah-Sammamish area, and there’s all kinds of permutations as to how that service delivery can occur over the years, all the way from nothing changing to the cities taking over all the services or some kind of transition,” Warren said.
The available options present other alternatives for Issaquah, district officials said.
“First of all, we should sit down and talk about this collaboratively and transparently,” Warren said. “Secondly, don’t you think we ought to look at all these other options?”
Issaquah Councilman Fred Butler said the study is meant to present additional options to city leaders about water and sewer service.
“I think the timing is right for it,” he said.
Butler, a longtime councilman, said the city and district sometimes disagree on issues, but the relationship between the entities is professional.
“We have worked with the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District on a number of issues,” he said.
“We have not always agreed on the issues. Both of us represent our jurisdictions and look after our best interests.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.