State Supreme Court rules in Wenatchee arena debt case

OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case sparked by debt troubles involving Wenatchee’s events arena that municipalities can’t guarantee a loan to other entities if the obligation exceeds the city’s debt limit.

In the 5-4 ruling, the high court affirmed a ruling by a Chelan County Superior Court judge that the city of Wenatchee would exceed its constitutional debt load if it backed nearly $42 million in bonds for the Town Toyota Center.

“The role of our judiciary in this scheme is self-evident: We must enforce the constitution,” Justice Charles Wiggins wrote on behalf of the narrow majority. “We must not assume legislative bodies will police themselves.”

Arley Harrel, an attorney who represented the city, said the ruling doesn’t impact the center or the city because the city had refused to continue to back the debt in 2011 after the trial court ruling and ultimately took the issue to voters, who authorized the arena’s Public Facilities District to impose a 0.1 percent regional sales tax increase in April to bail out the arena.

The election was authorized by the state Legislature after the arena went into default.

“We were pleased that that judiciary stepped forward and gave us guidance, not only for this particular debt, but going forward,” Harrel said.

Justice Mary Fairhurst, writing for the dissenting judges, argued that the bond contract did not create a debt within the meaning of constitutional and statutory limits.

“The lead opinion invents an entirely new legal analysis to achieve a contrary result,” she wrote.

Thomas O’Connell, who represented Wenatchee taxpayers in the case, said the ruling offered guidance to other municipalities and protects taxpayers.

“From the taxpayer’s perspective, we don’t want to be faced with a situation where elected officials decide, without a vote of the electorate, to guarantee huge projects where the risk of having to pay can come back on the taxpayers,” he said.

O’Connell said that the ruling could have far-reaching impacts on other municipalities.

An attorney for the facilities district was out of town and not available for comment Thursday.

More in Local News

Shock from WSU suicide ripples through Snohomish County

Roughly 1 in 10 seniors, sophomores and 8th-graders said they had attempted to take their own lives.

$1,000 reward for info on who killed an eagle near Snohomish

After being shot, the raptor was treated at the Sarvey Wildlife Center but died overnight.

Woman confronts man leaving house with stolen item

“He swung at her with a crowbar, missing her.”

Police seek suspect in Wells Fargo bank robbery

He was described as white, in his 30s, heavyset, with blonde hair and a maroon sweatshirt.

Possible bobcat sighting keeps Snohomish students inside

The creature was spotted on the campus of Valley View Middle School around noon.

Stabbing in Everett follows dispute between brothers-in-law

The victim, 54, was hospitalized. The suspect, 29, had not been apprehended Thursday.

New leaders coming to county, state political parties

Hillary Moralez of Bothell takes over as chair for the Snohomish County Democratic Party.

Mom and brother turn in suspect in Stanwood robberies

The man is suspected of robbing the same gas station twice, and apologizing to the clerk afterward.

Derrick “Wiz” Crawford, 22, is a suspect in the homicide of his roommate. (Edmonds Police Department)
Roommate suspected in Edmonds killing found hiding in closet

Police had been searching for him for 10 days before locating him at a house in Everett.

Most Read