Fairgrounds Road battle cost city $40k

LANGLEY ­— The fight over an easement to build a new city street across the fairgrounds has cost taxpayers at least $40,000.

Langley Mayor Neil Colburn will answer questions from the public and the city council tonight about the money that’s been spent on the battle over Fairgrounds Road.

The city and county recently settled the fight over a stretch of the fairgrounds needed to build a new road; the dispute had been headed to Island County Superior Court as part of a condemnation lawsuit.

Colburn said he is ready to release some preliminary numbers of the financial hit that Langley took from the fight at the regular city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

“Not all costs are in, and some are ongoing, but we will share all the information we have,” Colburn said.

Clerk/Treasurer Debbie Mahler will also give a report and answer questions at the meeting.

Mahler said the city has spent a total of $40,002 between October 2006 and April 2007.

“Most of it was legal (expenses),” Mahler said.

The city paid its two lawyers, city attorney Dale Roundy and condemnation specialist Michael Charneski, a total of $32,720 in legal fees since the city filed its condemnation suit on Oct. 13.

By comparison, the city spent $31,460 for general legal services unrelated to the fairgrounds property all through 2006.

Langley further spent $4,500 on engineering issues, $2,000 on appraisals and $782 on graphic illustrations, Mahler said.

There will be additional costs for construction-related issues. The city has agreed to pay for fencing and the extension of a city sewer line and other improvements to the fairgrounds in exchange for the easement.

Langley’s preliminary figures do not include the cost of the time spent by other city employees on the road easement issue. Langley went through repeated negotiations with county and fair officials before talks stalled at the start of 2007.

It isn’t as easy to detail how much public money was spent on the county level, however.

Expenses include the staff time of county commissioners, workers in the prosecutor’s office, public works engineers and other individuals who are on county payroll anyway, but their services were tapped during the conflict.

“It’s difficult to calculate,” Commissioner Mike Shelton said.

“We obviously did not hire any outside attorneys,” Shelton added. “But to say it didn’t cost the county anything isn’t right. We have attorney’s on staff and their time is paid by taxpayers.”

The county has not tallied the total staff time consumed by the conflict.

Shelton added that no overtime was spent to handle the dispute, however.

The Island County Fair Association board, which is considered an agent of Island County government and was granted intervener status in the lawsuit, paid at least two legal bills for its lawyers, Elaine Spencer and Judy Endejan. The association paid $1,904 for half of the initial legal opinion on the easement as well as $1,275 toward $2,551 in legal costs the fair association racked up for help with public disclosure questions.

How much the Island County Fair Association financed from private funds in addition to the amount already made public is not clear, as the association maintains that the non-profit side of the organization is not a public entity and therefore doesn’t have to disclose its financial records. The association had hired two lawyers that charged $340 and $310 per hour respectively.

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