EVERETT — Snohomish County’s approach to stormwater could use some patching up.
At least, that’s what the director in charge of county drainage and flood-control programs has concluded.
Surface Water Management director Will Hall is pushing a reform plan he believes will save nearly a half-million dollars per year in bureaucracy, and put that money toward culverts, catch basins and other actual projects.
“The current utility is obsolete and inefficient, wasting resources and taxpayer dollars,” Hall said.
His solution could upset some who like the way things are, especially the proposal to disband an advisory board that helps guide decisions in the Stillaguamish River basin.
Hall, a former County Council analyst, was appointed last year to run Public Works’ Surface Water Management Division. His office handles urban drainage projects in unincorporated areas as well as programs to improve water quality and flooding. The division includes 94 staff positions and an annual budget of $36.6 million. One new staff position was added in 2016.
Much of its funding comes from a yearly fee of $90 for homes in rural areas and $122 in urban areas. The money is collected with property taxes.
Some staff duties include: drainage inspections; building and maintaining projects to stop road flooding; improving water quality and fish habitat; maintaining dikes; and monitoring lakes.
Surface water work normally receives little attention, outside of isolated emergencies. During a historically wet winter, however, the office drew notice as it responded to situations such as flooding on Lake Serene in the Lynnwood area.
Everett this year broke a record for the most rain in February and March.
During the first three months of 2017, county drainage inspectors completed 128 investigations — twice the workload in a typical year, Hall said.
As it stands, the Surface Water Management Division must operate as three separate utilities: one for south Snohomish County, another for the Snohomish area and a third known as the Stillaguamish River Clean Water District. Hall wants to consolidate them into one and expects to save $480,000 in overhead.
“This is the No. 1 best opportunity I have found at being able to become more efficient at delivering government services,” Hall said.
The attempt to streamline the division comes at a time of rising costs for employee benefits as well as expensive new state and federal regulations.
The County Council has scheduled a hearing May 17 to consider moving ahead.
Councilman Terry Ryan said he’s willing to give it a try. Within three years, he’d like to see how things are working out. In particular, he wants to make sure projects and services are fairly distributed throughout the county.
“My district has taken most of the growth in the county and continues to,” Ryan said during a council discussion in early April. “I want to make sure that the ratepayers in my my district are seeing projects as well.”
Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said he expects to hear from people who disagree with the approach, particularly about getting rid of the Stillaguamish River Clean Water District Advisory Board.
“I’m sure there will be a fair amount of deliberation,” he told council members.
Rates would stay the same under the proposed changes. They haven’t gone up since 2008. The county did expand the fee-collection area by nearly 5,000 parcels in 2016.
Hall said his approach would give people a better idea of where their money is going. He cited the example of Lake Serene, where many waterfront homeowners were unhappy with the county’s decision to have them pay an added $197 yearly fee to share the cost of installing a new drainage outlet for the lake.
“As we all saw with Lake Serene, there’s work to do to build greater trust between my utility and the ratepayers,” Hall told council members. “This is one of the tools we’ll use to do that.”
A hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. May 17. The location is the eighth floor of the county’s Robert Drewel Building on 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.