To the editor:
Thanks for the accurate article in the paper. (“Audit tells the toll on Freeland Water and Sewer District,” March 23).
Here is a link to the law case adjudicated in 2001 in which the illegality of standby fees was established: http://case
Had the previous commissioners or their advisors been familiar with this case, they would have known it has been illegal to charge standby (ready to serve) fees since 2001. The FWSD’s current operations management firm — Whidbey Water Services — knew about the law. As soon as the district switched to WWS in May of 2012, WWS informed the current board that it is illegal for a public district to bill vacant land owners. WWS would not send out bills which had been sent by the previous accounting firm every 6 months. The board (us) agreed unanimously.
Whidbey Water Services manages approximately 25 public water districts and many more private water associations. They attend trainings for utility district personnel and elected officials and are up to date on utility law. The current board also attends trainings either monthly or bi-monthly and first order of business was to become a member of the Washington Association of Sewer & Water Districts (WASWD). The district had never been a member nor ever attended any trainings prior to the current board taking office. New board members have since been to two commissioner trainings, utility district finance trainings, Dept. of Ecology and Public Works Fund workshops, new legislation workshops, and more.
The burden of having to pay back what is still owed to the county for the land purchase, for the standby fees, for the improper expenditures of Island County sales tax funds — plus interest
— will be a huge drain on the current commissioners’ role to efficiently provide water, to timely revise the Freeland sewer plan for the 2016 county comprehensive plan, to refute ratepayer concerns that the ultimate cost will be reflected in higher water rates.
To allay fears about higher rates, Title 57 of the Revised Code of Washington which governs public utility districts, expressly forbids rates being based on anything but the costs of providing water. That is set in stone. Freeland water ratepayers can rest assured their rates will not go up due to any repayments the district has to make. The law is the law.
The solution to the rest of the financial cleanup is to be determined at this point. Every FWSD meeting in the future for some time to come will be spent trying to find solutions. Ratepayers and others are welcome to attend.