Two candidates will battle for water district seat
October 15, 2013
By Ari Cetron
For the first time in six years, there’s a contested race for a seat on the Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District board of directors. One-term incumbent Bob Brady will face political newcomer Brett Muhlestein.
Brady said he wants another term because he feels he has unfinished work to do on the board.
“We’re kind of in the middle of a lot of things, and I’d like to see it through,” the retired Boeing employee said.
In particular, there’s a new asset management system to put in place, and some troubles with the city of Issaquah.
Muhlestein said his run was prompted partly by the district’s adding new service along Southeast 20th Street in Sammamish. He said adding the sewer service along that stretch of road, and forcing some resident to connect to it, was handled poorly. If elected, he said, he would hold the office for only one term.
“I’ve got a lot of other things I plan on doing,” he said.
Brady said he was aware that the cities of Issaquah and Sammamish are considering putting him out of a job by assuming the water district within their own boundaries.
Brady said he would not stand in the way of such an undertaking, if it was the will of the people. He called for a vote of the entire district to see what residents want.
“I think its up to a vote of the people. I’m happy to go where they want if they have all the facts,” he said.
Muhlestein, who works in finance for Microsoft, said he’d talked with Issaquah’s candidates for mayor and they had explained to him that state law says cities should provide utilities such as water. While he understands that there are others who disagree with the interpretation, he said he would not generally oppose breaking up the water district if it were the right thing to do.
“It’s not in the best interest of everybody to have a prolonged legal fight,” he said. “It’s only really doing the lawyers any good.”
Brady took on the complaints of some residents who were upset by a spike in rates over the past few years. One change was based on the district setting aside funds in advance of expected replacement of pipes and other district assets.
The policy generally states that by collecting the money now, the district can avoid huge spikes when those assets fail and the district has to replace them.
“You can cut costs by not preparing for the future,” Brady said. “You can have low rates today, but they’re going to be higher in the future.”
Muhlestein agreed with that sort of long-term planning.
“That’s a common-sense practice,” he said.
The change was felt partly through a modification of the rate structure. The district altered its rates to collect a higher base rate and a lower rate per volume of water used.
Under the new structure, those higher users ended up paying less, while smaller users paid more.
Brady defended the practice. He said that much of the district’s costs are fixed (such as the cost of the pipe) as opposed to variable (such as the amount of water). The new structure, he said, reflects that reality.
Muhlestein said the rates should better reflect the volume of water people use. People should pay for what they use, he said, and fixed costs can be covered in that usage fee.
Brady said he was also unhappy with Issaquah’s plan to start using a water filtration system about 600 feet from one of the water district’s wells.
He said the system was awkward, from an engineering standpoint, and the district was working with Issaquah and the state to improve it.
Muhlestein noted the state Department of Ecology was monitoring the filtration system. He said that while it might not be ideal, he believes the department knows what it’s doing. If it doesn’t, he said, there’s a larger issue that would need to be addressed.
“I’m willing to have that faith in the state departments,” Muhlestein said.