Break on surface water fee means less money for environment

The Snohomish County Council voted to nix an annual fee increase that funds preservation work.

EVERETT— Ratepayers in unincorporated Snohomish County will get a break from one fee increase next year — but at the cost of funding for some environmental programs.

The Snohomish County Council last month voted 3-2 to nix a 2.8% annual inflationary adjustment attached to Surface Water Management utility fees. Councilmember Stephanie Wright proposed the change to give ratepayers a “one-year vacation” as many struggle financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The increase would have funded environmental programs to protect salmon and marine habitat and work to reduce flood damage.

The fee “not only directly funds habitat projects, but it also pays for monitoring salmon recovery, water quality, and shellfish protection and restoration progress in Snohomish County,” the Tulalip Tribes wrote in a statement provided to the council.

Getting rid of the annual inflationary increase will mean losing over $600,000 in revenue for surface water’s environmental programs in the first year, according to the tribes. If the yearly adjustment is not re-instituted, it could amount to a loss of over $13 million over six years.

Councilmember Jared Mead voted against removing the increase, saying surface water projects are a huge part of the county’s work to address an environmental crisis.

“If we remove this funding and decrease this revenue, then it’s going to impact projects farther down the line as well as this year,” said Councilmember Megan Dunn, who also voted against the measure.

Wright said she hopes to bring the annual increase back next year after reassessing the county’s financial status.

“Our seniors and others are really struggling right now with tax increases,” Councilmember Sam Low said. “It is important that we offer relief, and I think this is a great year to offer relief.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

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