Freeland officials reverse course on sewer LID

FREELAND — Lou Malzone won’t get to make good on a big campaign promise.

Three other guys beat him to it.

At their first meeting since last week’s election, commissioners for the Freeland Water and Sewer District unanimously voted to rescind a resolution that created a local improvement district, or LID, that would pay for a new $40 million sewer system in Freeland.

Controversy over the LID has raged for months, and the cost of the ambitious sewer project inspired Malzone to run for a commissioner’s seat.

Malzone, and fellow candidate Marilynn Abrahamson, defeated incumbent commissioners Nolen “Rocky” Knickerbocker and Jim Short in a landslide Nov. 8. Once Malzone and Abrahamson are sworn in, they will take control of the three-member board.

Abrahamson has also been a vociferous critic of the $40 million sewer plan, and she ran a combined campaign with Malzone that centered on wisdom of the sewer project, which they said would subsidize sewers for downtown business interests by shifting much of the massive costs to residential property owners. During the campaign, Malzone vowed to repeal the resolution that gave the district the authority to pass costs of the sewer project along to property owners in the Freeland area.

At Monday’s meeting of the district board, however, commissioners voted 3-0 to repeal the LID resolution.

The turnabout came after district consultant Gary Hess recounted a recent conference that included representatives from state and federal agencies that offer grants and loans for infrastructure projects.

District officials had earlier been worried that repealing the LID resolution would limit their ability to garner more money for the sewer project in the future.

But Hess said that wasn’t the case.

Hess said loans were available for commercial-only sewer projects, and grants could be pursued to cover 110 percent of the costs of sewers for existing residential areas.

Some federal grants will be off the table until 2014, he added.

Hess said they asked officials at the conference if canceling the LID resolution would hurt the district’s chances at getting grants.

“They said that wouldn’t have any effect on any of their programs at this time,” Hess said.

Loans would be a different story, he added.

“That would affect it, because we don’t have debt capacity,” Hess said.

With that worry out of the way, commissioners voted to rescind the LID resolution.

It was the first of several steps taken Monday in deference to the incoming board.

Commissioner Eric Hansen suggested the board put off hiring a new attorney — current counsel Al Hendricks wants to retire soon — until the new commissioners are seated.

Others agreed.

“Anything we can put off until the new commissioners come on line is probably a good idea,” Knickerbocker said.

The board also deferred consideration of the 2012 budget for capital improvements for the same reason.

“Let them figure priorities and such,” Knickerbocker said.



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