City of Lake Stevens, sewer district plan to merge

LAKE STEVENS — The city and sewer district are starting a multi-year process of merging.

The Lake Stevens Sewer District is run by a three-person board of elected commissioners. It serves roughly 35,000 people, nearly 90 percent in Lake Stevens and the remainder within the city’s urban growth area. Merging would put sewer services under the control of the seven-person City Council.

The sewer district’s 2017 budget calls for about $12.8 million in rate revenue. Most goes toward paying off debt for projects such as a treatment plant finished in 2012, general manager Michael Bowers said. About $5.7 million is for operations, including pay for 25 employees.

The city and sewer district work together under a 2005 agreement that set a timeline for merging by 2032. However, the agreement includes the option to join sooner if the governing bodies — the City Council and the Sewer District Board of Commissioners — agree to it.

On July 13, the commissioners passed a resolution to start negotiations. The document calls for a timeline of between five and seven years before the district and city would be fully merged. The first year is for research.

A matching resolution has been reviewed by the City Council, which plans to vote in August. An early merge was requested by the city.

“My reason for raising it is strictly one of governance,” Mayor John Spencer said. “I feel that the citizens of Lake Stevens should be able to deal with their mayor and city council on issues as significant as the operation of their sewer system.”

He would aim to keep district staff, he said. A year would be dedicated to researching funds, staffing, legal obligations and management. A consultant would work with the city and sewer district, as would attorneys.

Next year, the city and district would consider amending the 2005 agreement with a plan for transitioning sewer service to the city over the following four to six years. Spencer said the city’s goal is to avoid raising rates, but there’s no guarantee.

There’s been some concern that the city wants a sewer utility tax.

“If the city wanted to do it, we could do it now, and it’s not something we’re interested in,” Spencer said.

He thinks the merge would streamline work for developers and planners.

Sewer district commissioners were considering an increase in the size of the board from three to five. In May, Spencer wrote that he thought expanding the board was a way of stalling unification with the city. Commissioners decided not to pursue the expansion right away if it would be perceived as a stall tactic, Bowers said.

Public hearings will be scheduled if the city and sewer district move forward with amending their agreement next year, Bowers said. There’s been talk off and on over the last few years about unification. He compares it to companies merging. It takes an extensive amount of planning for how finances, employees and customers may be affected.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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