Bonney Lake council opposes flood district

Officials from the city of Bonney Lake are not happy with the county council over an ordinance passed recently that creates a flood control district with the authority to level a new tax.

With its position on the Plateau, members of the Bonney Lake city council can’t see the fairness in Bonney Lake residents paying the same tax rate as those in lower-lying cities, especially because, in their view, the need for the flood district is caused by unchecked growth and development in the valley.

The Bonney Lake city council registered their opposition May 11 council meeting with a unanimous resolution opposing the district, specifically any additional taxes from the district.

“To me, this is about development of the valley,” Councilmember Mark Hamilton said during the May 4 council workshop. “Many on the plateau are going to end up subsidizing - in a major way - the valley.”

Hamilton blamed the need for a flood district on “uncontrolled growth that should not occur” and called any tax that might be enacted “double dipping” by the county because of stormwater management fees it already collects from those uphill.

The county council unanimously passed the ordinance creating the Flood Control Zone District May 4. The legislation simply created the zone and makes the county council the governing body until a specific flood control zone district board is created.

The new district does not have any taxing authority and uses $500,000 from the county’s surface water funds collected form incorporated Pierce County to pay for the planning process to develop a county-wide plan, according to County Councilmember Shawn Bunney.

Bunney said the county-wide district would allow the county to better lobby for federal funds, as a similar King County district allows in relation tot he Howard Hanson Dam on the Green River.

Bunney, however, was insistent that no new taxes were levied as a result of the district’s creation and he sees no increases in the foreseeable future.

“We are not raising anyone’s taxes,” he said.

Bunney said the purpose of the district was to develop “unified strategies” to combat flooding.

“Water knows no jurisdictional boundaries,” he said. “Someone needs to put together a strategy for addressing our short term and long term needs.”

According to the ordinance, Pierce County between 2006 and 2009 experienced three of the 15 largest flood events in the county’s history, resulting in millions of dollars in damage.

The FEMA 100-year flood plain covers more than 60 square miles of the county and the estimated value of the property exposed to flooding in unincorporated Pierce County represents 11.6 percent of the county’s total value. The bill also states that approximately 92 miles of flood protection facilities “cannot be adequately repaired or maintained because of revenue limitations.”

The ordinance also states that the impacts of flooding extend “far beyond” the floodplain, including destruction of infrastructure, disruption of services and damages to drinking water and water treatment facilities.

Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman last week also blamed the flood risk on “poor decisions that are constantly being made at the county level.”

“They are allowing high risk assets in the valley and not doing anything about it,” he said.

Both Hamilton and Swatman worried about any new taxes the new flood control authority might impose and said while they understand that the should pay some tax due to infrastructure needs, it would not be fair to tax residents on the hill at the same rate as those in the valley who receive the lions’ share of the benefit of the district.

Bunney said he agreed with Bonney Lake that they should not be taxed at the same rate as valley cities, which would see more of a benefit.

“If anyone is asked to pay for improvements, that must be done in a way to create an equitable balance of benefits,” Bunney said, but again said that flooding would create a county-wide problem.

The new authority, however, does allow for the possibility of sub-zones within the county district, meaning any authority that may be created might be able to create differing tax rates for different cities.

Councilmembers Joyce McDonald, who sponsored the legislation did not return calls for comment.

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