County executive vetoes fee break to save environmental work

The move overrode a County Council vote nixing an annual fee increase that funds conservation.

Dave Somers

Dave Somers

EVERETT — In a seldom-used move, county Executive Dave Somers vetoed a Snohomish County Council vote, saying their decision would lead to a loss of environmental conservation funding.

In November, the County Council voted to nix a 2.8% annual surface water fee increase to give ratepayers a break as many struggle financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fee funds environmental programs that protect salmon and marine habitat and work to reduce flood damage.

Somers said the move would have inhibited the county’s ability to remove fish blockages in streams, a court-ordered county responsibility, along with the other programs.

“By making a permanent cut to (surface water management) funding, we would lose our ability to execute projects across Snohomish County,” Somers said in an email. “As we’ve seen with recent wildfires on the west coast and right here in Snohomish County, our efforts to adapt to climate change are essential to our future, and (surface water management) is the one major tool we have to help.”

Councilmember Stephanie Wright put forward a motion to override Somers’ veto last week, but it failed.

Getting rid of the annual inflationary increase would have meant losing over $600,000 in revenue for those programs in the first year, according to the Tulalip Tribes. If the yearly adjustment were not re-instituted, it could amount to a loss of over $13 million over six years.

Somers also cited the potential loss of 14 employees, from current and future hires, as a reason for his veto.

“Now we can have a predictable and stable funding source to maintain our plans,” he said. “The alternative would be an ever-decreasing amount of funding, once again putting us in arrears.”

Somers used his veto power in 2018 when he attempted to roll back hiring restrictions imposed by the County Council as part of a budget-trimming strategy. His veto was overridden by the County Council in a 5-0 vote. The council needs support of four of five members to override a veto.

Somers also vetoed a sign ordinance in Clearview in 2019, saying he wanted to stop the spread of digital signs at businesses in the unincorporated community south of Snohomish as well as in other rural areas.

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

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