Dickhoff vetoes water, sewer fees ordinance, has harsh words for council

As promised, Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff vetoed an ordinance Monday evening that would have cut back on fees for water and sewer hookups in new construction projects. And she had some harsh words for the City Council, which had approved the ordinance 8-2.

“You do not, you do not, you do NOT,” she said, pounding her hands on the table with each uttered “not,” “sit in a room with people and say ‘how much would you pay.’ I find it absolutely disgusting and I have given my life to the city of Hoquiam.” said Dickhoff. “And there is nothing you can say that any benefit outweighs the principle. It’s abhorrent.”

She accused the council of failing to do its due diligence in studying the ordinance and what she saw as a clear-cut case of an ordinance designed to financially benefit one particular developer.

“The lack of involvement or willingness to educate yourselves about the broader discussion on this topic is embarrassing. It is your job,” said Dickhoff. “If you don’t want to do your job, and you just want to vote based on something you think might be good but you don’t know for sure, it’s pathetic.”

Vetoes by mayors are rare in municipal governments.

Ward 1 councilman Dave Wilson later commented on Dickhoff’s veto and took exception with one of her statements. The statement to which she referred — how much can you pay? — came at a committee meeting discussing the fees. Wilson explained the question was asked not by a member of the council but a citizen who asked it directly to Summerhaven Homes developer Michael Vellani.

“That was not asked by a council member but someone else who was there,” said Wilson. “I immediately told him that was inappropriate and he apologized immediately.”

“Yes, but it was still a practice that unfolded,” said Dickhoff.

Before the vote, councilman Ben Winkleman explained that even significant cuts in meter fees would not adversely affect the city’s bottom line and said lower fees that would be paid by the developer are offset by the need for affordable housing and the revenue that would come to the city through property taxes and utilities. Dickhoff disagreed, saying the capital facilities account, where the fees would go, is a safety net the city can use to keep the city’s infrastructure intact and said the fees are important in the long term.

City Finance Director Corri Schmid said currently the fund associated with the collection of the fees has about $112,000 in it, about $60,000 from water fees and $50,000 in sewer fees. As Winkleman pointed out, there has been very little new construction done in the city in the past 10 years and the cuts would make Hoquiam more attractive to development, which in turn would bring more money to the city than the fees.

The ordinance voted on Monday did cut the fees significantly for new water and sewer connections. The previous ordinance had asked for all water and sewer new construction hookups for meters one inch or smaller to cost nothing. The current city fee for water is $7,850 for water and $7,380 for sewer for a one-inch meter. The latest ordinance calls for a $2,000 charge for one-inch sewer meters and $600 for water.

Just before the vote, Wilson added that the purpose of the ordinance was not to show favor to one developer and the proposal has been considered since last year. He said the purpose was to try to attract more development to Hoquiam because, “let’s face it, nobody’s stepping in here to build.”

Vellani has said he is only working with the city to try to keep his costs down so his home prices can stay affordable. He’s looking at building family homes and 40 or 50 four-plex units at the East Hoquiam Road property and says the current rate fee adds about $12,000 to each unit, out of reach for many people in Hoquiam in need of affordable housing. He said the recent shorelines permit application fee restructuring by the council has saved two proposed Port of Grays Harbor expansion projects millions — BHP’s potash storage and shipping facility and the Renewal Energy Group’s quest to add more biofuel storage to its existing site — and said his project deserves some concessions too.

Winkleman pointed out that the ordinance also included a provision that if a property had been off the water and sewer system and was redeveloped after five years had passed that property would be required to pay the capital facilities fees. That provision did not exist under current city rules. The ordinance would have cut significantly the fees for developers hooking up to water and sewer services, but unlike the original ordinance did not eliminate them completely for meters under one inch.

In the end, the vote was 8-2 — two members, Logan Livingston and Kim Simera, were absent — with only Greg Grun and Denise Anderson voting no.

By law, Dickhoff has 10 days to provide the city council with her official veto and a written statement explaining her reasoning behind the veto. The ordinance will then be returned to the council at its next meeting. The council can override the mayor’s veto with a “simple majority plus one,” meaning it takes eight votes on a council of 12, so if the council members stand by their 8-2 vote on the ordinance the veto would be overturned and the ordinance passed.