Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff told City Council members Monday she would veto a proposed ordinance that would reduce or eliminate charges for the installation of water and sewer service on new construction. It’s rare for a mayor to use veto power.
At the Dec. 11 meeting, a report detailing the plan was presented by the City Council Public Utilities Committee. It recommended that the charges be eliminated for all water and sewer meters one inch or smaller and reduced by 70 percent on larger meters.
It would mean a major savings to the developers of the Summerhaven Homes housing community off East Hoquiam Road, a 50-unit condominium project. Under the current city ordinance, the charge would be between $3,140 and $7,850 for a meter up to one inch. On new construction, the proposed ordinance would eliminate that fee altogether. Currently, a six-inch meter would garner a $157,000 charge; the proposed ordinance would cut that fee by 70 percent, down to $48,000.
At a regulatory committee meeting before Monday’s City Council meeting, Dickhoff made an appearance, along with the Summerhaven Homes developer.
Council member Ben Winkleman brought up the proposed ordinance. He later told The Daily World it appeared to him as though Dickhoff and the developer were confrontational at the get-go.
“That’s when I became aware she was against the whole idea and had directed staff not to move forward with drafting the ordinance unless specifically brought up by the council,” said Winkleman. “I brought it up, made a motion to legal counsel to prepare an ordinance with the committee’s recommendations and she appeared to become quite upset about that and said she would have no hesitation to exercise her veto power if we passed it.”
When Winkleman brought the subject up at the council meeting Monday under old business, he said he wanted to draft an ordinance that followed the committee report, and the council passed his recommendation 6-4, with two council members absent.
At the council meeting, Dickhoff again said she would use the veto. Since the majority of the council supported at least drafting of the ordinance for consideration, city staff will go ahead and it will likely be on the Feb. 26 meeting agenda.
Mayor Dickhoff later clarified her opposition of the proposed ordinance to The Daily World.
“It was made very clear to the council that I opposed the recommendation because we should not change policy to help a private company widen their profit margins,” she said. “We require that citizens pay their water bill. Why should we give away services or waive responsibilities we’ve committed to because someone wants to make more of a profit?”
Summerhaven Homes is the only major development of its kind in the city, currently. Dickhoff said the city has already been very accommodating to the company since the development was announced in 2014.
“… They’ve been granted many accommodations in the past to ‘encourage development’ and that ultimately led them to feel they could insist on this request,” said Dickhoff.
Attempts to contact the developer behind the Summerhaven Homes development were unsuccessful before press time.
Winkleman countered that the benefits of such a large-scale housing development outweigh the reduction in up-front costs to the developer. He said plans are for 50 town homes and that the current ordinance would cost the developer a “few hundred thousand dollars” to make the new water and sewer connections.
“Don’t we need some nice new rental town homes?” asked Winkleman. “Other developers who have done that in other places have seen those units full ever since, and I know professionals are looking for that type of housing. There is a social need for it.”
Winkleman continued: “If you take the monthly charge for utilities and count those properties on the tax rolls, I believe we would recoup everything and be farther ahead with the utilities connected than we would benefit from up-front costs. I think if you look, the logic and numbers are pretty clear and we should proceed as the committee suggested. And I would hope if the mayor decides to veto, the council would continue with the suggestions in the original report.”
Dickhoff said she feels it’s unfair to give one project a benefit over any other.
“We don’t expect people to pay more than their fair share, but we do have a standard of treating people consistently with our expectations. Nearly every municipality in the state has a fee like this.
“Something that should also be mentioned is that this would not qualify for a vast majority of any development within city limits,” she continued. “This only applies to areas which are not currently set up for utilities. So again this was undeveloped land purchased with the intent to develop and sell homes for profit. They have, and do pay, this fee in other places.”
A veto can be overturned if eight of the council’s 12 members vote to overturn it, said City Administrator Brian Shay.
“This is the first time she has mentioned a veto,” said Shay. “It’s very rare. I’ve been here 12 years and think I saw Mayor Durney use it once. It just doesn’t happen.”