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Thu., May 9, 2013

Editorial: Sewer bill evaders had plenty of time to pay

If you’ve abided by the law and met your obligations, there’s no need to feel sorry for the owners of 66 Spokane County properties facing foreclosure for not paying their sewer bills.

If anything, the county has been too lenient.

On Tuesday, Spokane County commissioners unanimously endorsed foreclosure action on the biggest scofflaws. Notices of this possibility went out to 1,850 holders of delinquent accounts in February. Liens were placed on some properties at that time. Owners and mortgage companies were notified. Installment plans were made available.

That shook loose some payments, and the overall outstanding debt of $3.2 million was whittled to $2 million. But some property owners made the incorrect calculation that the county would ultimately back off. Now, they’re facing the consequences.

Spokane County has gone through a 30-year process of getting thousands of homes and many businesses off septic tanks and onto sewer lines. Officials couldn’t move too quickly because the county didn’t have the capacity to hook everyone up. In 2002, the county finally decided to build its own wastewater treatment plant, but the state-of-the-art facility was subjected to numerous delays and didn’t come on line until 2011.

Some environmentalists are still unhappy with that process, but the new plant has meant progress toward a cleaner river because it is technologically superior to the city’s facility, which the county previously used. It has also expanded sewer capacity.

Still, some people have been reluctant to hook up and pay their fair share, which is unfair to those who have done the right thing. Spokane County is an urban area that was treated like a rural one for far too long. Residents of Millwood and the City of Spokane Valley are among those that were taken off septic tanks, which are environmentally inferior and pose a threat to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for the region.

Clearly, some residents were never going to pay their hookup fees and monthly bills. County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls told county commissioners that other counties have moved more aggressively against delinquent accounts.

Foreclosure isn’t a step to be taken lightly, but property owners have been given plenty of chances to meet their obligations. Some of the bills have grown to as high as $10,000. The hope is that this action against those with the highest bills will spur others to pay up.

We all have an important stake in protecting the river and the aquifer. Responsible citizens have endured considerable expense to protect these vital assets. If the only way to extract payment is to seize property and sell it, then so be it. The free ride is over.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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