Taxing water, sewer bills a terrible idea

County governments would have the authority to place a new tax on water and sewer bills if a bill currently under consideration by the Legislature is approved.

The tax could add up to 6 percent to ratepayers’ bills.

The provision authorizing this tax is part of a larger bill that gives counties new taxing powers to meet current budget deficits.

We understand that county governments are facing serious budget problems, but raising taxes on vital services like water and sewer is regressive and is the wrong thing to do when people are already struggling to make ends meet.

Water and sewer districts, such as Silverdale Water District and East Gig Harbor Water District, serve approximately one-third of the households across the state.

Most of the districts serve unincorporated and rural areas. The districts have no taxing authority and are required to meet all expenses out of their rates.

Our ratepayers are already stressed. Delinquent bills, requests for assistance and service shutdowns due to failure to pay have increased across the state.

One district reported a 500 percent increase in service disconnects in the past year.

Water and sewer districts are technically units of government. As such, they make no profit on their services and have limited ability to respond when ratepayers are not able to pay their bills.

Our districts hate to cut off service. They ask other ratepayers to pay extra into a fund to help out and they work with local charitable organizations like the Salvation Army to help families facing disconnection.

Under our state’s constitution, they are prohibited from simply forgiving amounts due since this is considered a gift of public funds.

The tax measure is in Senate Bill 5433 which is currently awaiting floor action in the House of Representatives.

In addition to permitting counties to tax utilities, the bill also allows cities to tax the gross revenue of water and sewer districts that serve city resident.

Other provisions permit new taxes to supplant previously approved revenues, adds a tax on natural gas users and allows property tax levy lids to be raised.

Hal Schlomann is executive director of the Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts.

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