Sewer and water commissioner elections are usually as exciting as clogged pipes.
But in Liberty Lake – one of the region’s hottest growth areas – the elected position influences everything from a glass of drinking water to numbers that appear on utility bills.
Policies set in place by Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District commissioners dictate water usage in a community hard-pressed for water rights and address a pipe full of pollution challenges that collectively impact the Spokane River.
This election, newcomer John Korondy is challenging incumbent Commissioner Tom Agnew for a six-year term.
If elected, Korondy, a computer scientist and management consultant, would be the first city dweller on a three-member board. Although a majority of ratepayers live inside the 4-year-old city of Liberty Lake, the sewer district is governed by people living near the lake but outside city limits.
“I believe that the residents of Liberty Lake deserve a voice on the commission,” Korondy said.
Agnew, a planning and management consultant who works with businesses and cities, said during his six-year tenure he’s helped the district protect the environment and set fair rates.
During the 2003 election, voters widely rejected a Liberty Lake city official as commissioner. Doug Smith, director of planning and community development, favored a city takeover of the district and lost by a 70 percent margin to incumbent Commissioner Frank Boyle.
Two weeks after the election, the City Council passed an ordinance initiating an “assumption” of the sewer and water district. State law allows cities to take over special purpose sewer and water districts if 60 percent of the ratepayers reside within city limits.
The district sued to block the “assumption” and the city countersued. A superior court judge ruled that Liberty Lake failed to meet certain requirements for the takeover, including conducting an environmental study and holding a public vote.
Mutual lawsuits and a $76,000 feasibility study drained nearly $400,000 of ratepayer and taxpayer funds and diminished trust on both sides. The topic had been in limbo for a year.
Korondy lamented being a taxpayer funding two sides of a lawsuit and said improving communication between the city and district is crucial in solving the community’s growth management challenges and protecting the environment.
While “assumption” could be an option, Korondy said he’s open to other ideas, such as sharing personnel and other resources.
“One body of government, generally speaking, is better than more than one,” Korondy said.
Agnew said the district can serve ratepayers best by maintaining its independence from the city, which he said is “by design focused on development.”
He’s opposed a city takeover of services, in part, because municipalities can tax sewer and water services that they control.
While the sewer district has historically been a joint collaboration between residents and developers, Agnew said ratepayers shouldn’t subsidize hook-up fees.
“We don’t roll over. We expect developers to pay a fair cost for new development.”
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