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VIEWPOINT | Let’s clear up some confusion on Freeland cityhood
Several references have been made recently concerning the relationship of the Freeland incorporation effort and the efforts by the Freeland Water and Sewer District to provide sewer service within the Freeland community. This article is offered in an effort to clarify the relationship of those two very separate and distinct activities.
How Freeland and the Water and Sewer District differ: First and foremost, the only thing Freeland and Freeland Water and Sewer have in common is the name “Freeland‚“ and their geographical location.
Freeland Water District has existed since 1960. It is a special taxing district with three elected commissioners. In November of 2006, it changed its name from a water district to a water and sewer district and began planning for the installation of sewers within a portion of the district boundaries. This plan was in response to the continued growth within the commercial core of Freeland. Several existing businesses have long wanted to expand to improve service, efficiency and profitability. Several owners have wanted to remove outdated or substandard buildings and replace them with more contemporary and potentially profitable facilities. New businesses also want to come in, but can’t because most of the downtown core cannot be accommodated by septic systems; hence the pressure for sewers.
Relationship of the NMUGA to Freeland: Meanwhile, other forces have also been in play.
In 1998 the community was designated a Rural Area of Intense Development (RAID). Accelerating growth this decade has resulted in the new designation; a Non-Municipal Urban Growth Area (NMUGA), in conformance with the state Growth Management Act. Increasingly city-like, with growing pressure for downtown core development, Freeland continues under county jurisdiction.
It is, nevertheless, the business center of South Whidbey island.
It has five banks, three mortgage and escrow businesses, investment brokerages, the largest grocery store south of Oak Harbor, several restaurants and a variety of hardware, building supply and other service-oriented, retail and manufacturing businesses. It has a taxable income estimated to be in excess of the combined incomes of Coupeville and Langley — in short, a small city but without local governance.
Going forward: More than two years ago, interested members of the community coalesced to form what has become the Freeland City Committee, believing strongly that with the inevitable growth facing Freeland, local control would be preferable to county governance.
Regardless of legal designation, however, the area will continue to be served by Freeland Water and Sewer. And, absent approval by the ratepayers, the utility will continue to operate independently, regardless of whether the area remains under county jurisdiction or local control.
I sincerely hope the foregoing offers some clarity about these several issues. It is important that the Freeland community be informed factually before any decision is made concerning a vote on sewers or incorporation.
Meg Wingard is the chairwoman of the Freeland City Committee.