NP County challenges storm water fees

Entities object to fees charged by Lewiston

By Sandra L. Lee of the Tribune

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nez Perce County commissioners agreed Monday to take part in a lawsuit challenging the city of Lewiston’s storm water fees.

After what he described as an enormous amount of legal research, Prosecutor Dan Spickler said county attorneys agree the fee is a disguised tax that should have been put to the voters. “We believe there’s an excellent chance the courts will agree with us,” he said.

The county joins the Port of Lewiston, Lewiston School District and Lewis-Clark State College in choosing to sue rather than pay.

Nez Perce County was billed $3,924 this year, when the fee is being assessed at half what it is planned to be in two years. But that doesn’t include the county’s fairgrounds or the jail, Clerk-Auditor Patty O. Weeks said. It also doesn’t include about $20,000 for the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport. That’s half the total fee for the year, with the other half being charged to the city, Weeks said.

That fee is subject to Federal Aviation Administration review because it goes into a pool of money that will be used citywide, not just on the airport.

The storm water fee was implemented last year based on what the city calls equivalent residential units. Each residence is charged one ERU and other properties, both commercial and nonprofit, are based on multiples of that figure, depending on size and impervious surfaces.

The first year’s fee was set at 50 percent of the $6 ERU, with the intent to go to 75 percent in fiscal year 2010 and 100 percent in 2011. With the poor economy, the city council chose to delay increases for a year.

In other business:

l An agreement with the Idaho Transportation Department was approved to complete a section of the Lapwai Pedestrian-Bike Path. Engineering costs pushed the final price tag $284,000 higher than expected, Chairman Douglas Zenner said. The initial cost was expected to be $550,000, with $50,000 of that from the county and the remainder a grant. The excess is being shared by the Nez Perce Tribe, which agreed last week to contribute $142,000, and the county will make up the remaining $142,000 from a fund it has set aside to match state and federal grants.

l A medical insurance contract with Regence BlueShield of Idaho was approved. Rates will go up 8 percent starting Oct. 1. Regence had asked for 10.6 percent, but reduced the premium after removing bariatric treatment from coverage. Bariatrics, the treatment of obesity, was added in an earlier contract at no extra charge to the county.

l Thom Hawkins, fire mitigation coordinator and hazardous fuels treatment project manager, was authorized to apply for $400,000 wildland urban interface grants that would in part help clear brush around several rural subdivisions to make them more defensible in the event of a wildland fire. Hawkins said $60,000 of the total would be used in Lewis County.

l Lewiston resident Marjie Johnson questioned several items in the county’s proposed budget, including a 3 percent hike in property taxes, money for a public defender contract, and whether departments are cutting expenses.

County officials said some line items, such as about $250,000 in the fire department budget, are there only in case grants are received. Otherwise, no money is spent.

Department heads are trimming wherever they can, and in some cases, such as the assessor’s office, the bottom line hasn’t gone up in two years, Spickler said.

Final budget figures won’t be known until the end of the month when the state will have some revenue figures available, Weeks said.

Lee may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2266.