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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley homeowners will pay an extra $37 next year in stormwater fees

Spokane Valley City Hall is seen on May 11. The City Council last week voted 5-2 to raise stormwater fees from $21 per year to $58.   (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

A stormwater fee increase is brewing in Spokane Valley.

The City Council last week voted 5-2 to raise stormwater fees for 2023. The annual cost for homeowners will climb from $21 to $58, the same rate Spokane charges.

Stormwater fees are legally different from taxes, but they’re collected as part of a property owner’s tax bill. Cities and counties primarily use them to pay for infrastructure that handles rain and snow runoff, such as underground pipes, roadside swales and dry wells.

Federal and state laws require local governments to manage stormwater, and for good reason.

While it may seem harmless, stormwater can pick up oil, pesticides and other pollutants as it flows over pavement and lawns. Capturing stormwater gives governments an opportunity to clean it before it reenters rivers and aquifers.

Since 2006, Spokane Valley property owners have paid $21 per year in stormwater fees for every single-family home, duplex, triplex and fourplex. Owners of apartment buildings and commercial properties pay $21 per 3,160 square feet of impermeable surface.

Stormwater fees in 2022 will bring Spokane Valley about $1.9 million. The city will also receive about $450,000 through the county’s aquifer protection area fee.

For the past 16 years, the $21 fee has been enough to cover Spokane Valley’s stormwater costs, but that’s no longer the case. Without a fee increase, city staff project stormwater expenses in 2023 to exceed revenues by more than $200,000.

Spokane Valley City Engineer Gloria Mantz told the City Council that a fee increase to $58 per year will bring Spokane Valley about $6 million in 2023, enough for the city to complete needed infrastructure repairs and comply with state and federal regulations. The city expects the state Department of Ecology to impose new regulations in the future, such as additional street sweeping requirements, that will come with new costs for Spokane Valley.

All seven City Council members agreed Spokane Valley needed to raise stormwater fees, but they disagreed that an additional $37 per household was the right amount.

City Council members Ben Wick and Brandi Peetz, who voted against the motion to set fees at $58, wanted to go with $45.

A $45 stormwater fee would be the bare minimum necessary in order to keep up with the city’s stormwater needs, Mantz said. It would have brought in $4.8 million annually and allowed the city to hire three new full-time employees on top of the four it already has.

The $58-a-year figure will allow the city to hire seven new employees and take a more proactive approach to stormwater management, rather than merely replacing infrastructure as it fails.

“The minimum is basically you’re just putting a Band-Aid and fixing what’s failing,” Mantz said. “The proactive (approach) allows you to replace failing infrastructure and gets you a little bit ahead of the game.”

Wick said he understands the importance of protecting water quality, but questioned whether it was a good idea to nearly triple stormwater fees in one year.

“I think it was too much, too fast,” he said.

Wick noted that the City Council this fall voted against a property tax increase that would have cost the average homeowner about $3, citing concerns about the economic downturn.

He also pointed out that the Department of Ecology, Washington’s environmental protection agency, hasn’t finalized its new regulations yet. Spokane Valley shouldn’t be budgeting for hypothetical regulations before they become reality, he argued.

“Let’s step up to what our consultant says is the minimum,” Wick said. “Let’s give us another year to figure out what the rules are going to be.”

Other City Council members said they believed a more proactive approach to stormwater management was the better option.

Arne Woodard said he feels the city needs to address its stormwater infrastructure maintenance backlog.

“We know of a certain number of stormwater facilities that have, for all practical purposes, totally outlived their life,” he said. “They’ve got to be replaced.”

Mayor Pam Haley highlighted that the difference between $45 per year and $58 per year will only cost homeowners a little more than an extra dollar a month. On top of that, she stressed that Spokane Valley shouldn’t be afraid to invest in water quality projects.

“It’s really a few dollars a month to protect our single-source water supply,” she said, referring to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer that provides drinking water to most Spokane County residents. “This is health and safety. It’s very, very important.”