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Big names on unpaid sewer bill list

The list of businesses that owe Spokane County the largest chunks of more than $1.4 million in delinquent sewer bills include some notable names.

There’s builder Harley Douglass, who owes more than $40,000, a fitness club owned by tennis star Jan-Michael Gambill that owes more than $60,000, and the former Hotteez nightclub in Spokane Valley with a bill of more than $12,000.

Those on the list of the 10 highest unpaid sewer bills say they’re not trying to rip off county government.

County officials, however, say the delinquencies are starting to hurt. About 3,600 of the county’s 30,000 sewer customers are delinquent, and liens have been placed on 3,100 of those properties for outstanding bills.

Last week, county commissioners approved a plan to persuade people to pay up. Customers will have until June 26 to at least begin making payments before they are slapped with significant interest and penalties.

After June 26, the county will charge a 10 percent penalty each month on outstanding balances. Customers also will be hit with 8 percent interest each year from the original due date.

“We are serious about our need to collect,” said commission Chairman Todd Mielke.

The largest sewer debt as of March, of more than $62,000, belongs to Brookstone Apartments, 504 N. McDonald Road.

Eric Steven, an attorney who represents Brookstone and another business on the list, Rose Haven Mobile Home Park, said the businesses have made arrangements to pay the bills.

Some business owners with sewer liens said they didn’t know about their debts. That includes Evergreen Pet Shop, the Zip’s at 6411 E. Sprague Ave. and the former Hotteez nightclub, now called Volcanos.

Bruce Rawls, county utility director, said that when a lien is about to be placed on a property, warnings are sent to the site address, owner and taxpayer.

“We send out all kinds of warning letters,” he said.

Global Fitness, owned by Gambill and run by his family, has struggled recently because about 30 percent of the gym’s membership pays dues late or not at all, said Torrey Gambill, general manager of Global Fitness, who is Jan-Michael’s brother. However, membership is picking up, he said.

“We’re absolutely trying to make this up as soon as we can,” Torrey Gambill said.

A long-running legal dispute has tied payment of the third-largest debt, which belongs to builder Harley Douglass.

When Douglass decided to build Castlegate Apartments near Whitworth College in the mid-1990s, he partnered with nearby apartment owners to build a $200,000 waste system that connects to city of Spokane sewers because the county hadn’t extended service there, said his wife, Lisa Bonnett-Douglass.

Bonnett-Douglass said her husband agreed to hook into the county’s sewer but received assurances it would take at least a couple of decades before lines reached his property. However, county sewers arrived in only six years – along with demands to pay a $127,000 hookup fee, she said.

“We’re not being a deadbeat,” Bonnett-Douglass said. “We’re paying for our usage, it’s just not going to Spokane County. It’s going to the city of Spokane.”

Rawls said that the hookup fee would be divided monthly, and Douglass’ county bill would be only $50 or so more than what he pays to the city.

“To our knowledge there is no document indicating that it would be 20 or 25 years” before county sewers reached Castlegate, Rawls said.

LKB Properties, a Harley Douglass-affiliated business, also made the 10-largest-bills list. Bonnett-Douglass said the LKB charges got mixed in with the Castlegate dispute by mistake and will be paid.