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Utility takeover scrutinized

Wed., Dec. 8, 2004

Toilets would still flush, faucets would still run, utility bills would cost about the same.

In short, Liberty Lake’s sewage would still run downhill, no matter who wins the heated battle to control the community’s plumbing, a consultant said Tuesday.

Addressing the Liberty Lake City Council on Tuesday, consultant John Maxwell said there was no clear customer benefit to be gained by the city government taking over the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District. However, there would be gains for the 2-year-old city government, Maxwell said, particularly when it came to governing the community’s significant construction boom.

The city and the local sewer and water district are in a power struggle, brought about by rapid urban-like growth on the north end of the lake for which the town is named. That rapidly growing area incorporated roughly two years ago and its elected officials want control of its water and sewer services. Residents both inside and outside the city are balking at the proposed takeover, fearing higher taxes and – in the case of non-city sewer customers – disenfranchisement. At least 76 percent of the sewer district’s customers live within the city.

As it is, the city can approve construction developments within its limits, but must then wait to see whether officials running the sewer district will concur. Taking over the district would solve differences in planning, Maxwell said, while also giving the utility the taxing power of a city. Liberty Lake’s ability to raise money for the sewer district through taxes and fees far exceeds that of the district.

“The city has more statutory authority, more planning and review responsibility, more financial capability and more staffing opportunities and more utility resource options without sacrificing the level or quality of service,” Maxwell said.

What the city brings to the district, Maxwell said, is a golf course where the district could spray its treated wastewater, should ever-tightening state controls someday prevent it from releasing water into the Spokane River. The golf course also comes with a sizable water right capable of providing enough water for 1,400 homes. The district needs more water.

Liberty Lake city councilors embraced Maxwell’s study, which was completed last month. In the weeks leading up the public unveiling, the council drafted a resolution that addressed key questions raised by the study about the city’s intent for the district, specifically concerning protection of Liberty Lake.

Frank Boyle, sewer and water district commissioner and one of 14 people in attendance Tuesday night, said it would take 60 days or more for the district to digest Maxwell’s study before he could respond.

Mayor Steve Peterson said the final bill for the study isn’t in, but it will probably cost more than $50,000.


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