Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"Pullman: Water issues heat up talks with legislators"

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Water issues made for the most heated topic in a town hall meeting Wednesday between the Pullman City Council and Republican legislators from Washington’s 9th District.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, Rep. David Buri and Rep.-elect Steve Hailey took part in the special meeting, intended to open dialogue between city and state officials regarding expectations for the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 8 in Olympia.

Councilman Keith Bloom asked the legislators to focus on creating a level of fairness regarding state stormwater rules.

The Washington State Department of Ecology will issue a new stormwater permit later this month that is designed to manage the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff.

The rules include stricter and more regulated standards that could prove costly to Pullman.

Moscow is not subject to the same, stringent regulations, and Bloom said this has hurt Pullman’s ability to compete with its cross-border neighbor for residents, businesses and development.

Complying with the new stormwater rules could be expensive for the city, and could create problems for its residents.

The way the regulations are written, Pullman residents wouldn’t be allowed to wash their cars in their driveways, or let water fall from their lawn sprinklers onto pavement because that water would run off into the city’s creeks and rivers.

No one — not even the Department of Ecology — knows if it will be possible for Pullman to comply with the new stormwater standards, considering the topographical makeup of the city and the fact it’s surrounded by farmland.

“I think we need to know what we’re dealing with. I just don’t believe this has really been thought out for the city. Not just for this city, but for the region,” Bloom said. “I’m going to have a problem with giving the Girl Scouts a ticket for having a car wash. Nobody’s arguing that we don’t need (good stormwater management), but nobody’s volunteering to fund it.”

Schoesler said he would do what he could to find funding outlets if the city would agree to delve deeper into understanding the subject.

He said more research is needed for him to take a stand in Olympia. Schoesler recommended that a study compare Pullman’s water regulations with those mandated in Moscow.

“We should only be competing (with Moscow) on the athletic field,” he said. “Do we have a level playing field with water?”

Officials did agree that a positive effort is being made to make water issues a regional matter. Schoesler noted that groups such as the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee are moving in the right direction to research ways to conserve the area’s water.

“We’re in strong agreement,” Schoesler said. “We share these rivers and streams with other cities and states, and it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of that.”

Other topics of discussion included the support of Washington State University capital projects, the detriment of increasing malpractice insurance rates on the local health care community and the state’s financial pinch. However, much of the conversation focused on Washington’s minimum wage, affordable housing, and the possibility of implementing an Internet sales tax.

Councilman Francis Benjamin said Pullman’s lack of affordable housing is causing some residents to flock to Moscow.

He said the ongoing competition with Moscow could hurt the dynamics of the community, not only in population, but in commerce as well. He noted the issue of affordable housing may be the reason businesses and developers choose to build in Moscow rather than Pullman.

“It’s something that is important not just for Pullman, but the ring around Pullman,” Benjamin said.

Bloom took the issue one step further, pinpointing Washington’s high minimum wage standard as a factor. He suggested that new businesses in Washington’s border communities should not be required to pay the state’s $7.63-per-hour minimum wage until those businesses get off the ground. He suggested a three- to five-year waiver.

“Go ahead, compete. Get some money in the bank,” he said. “It hurts. It hurts to see strip malls empty.”

Pullman City Supervisor John Sherman encouraged the legislators to support the Streamlined Sales Tax, which would allow local businesses to tax for products sold online. He noted that the tax could allow Pullman entrepreneurs to compete on a larger scale.

“It’s an equity issue as well,” he said. “Our businesses need to be able to compete.”

Schoesler said the meeting was successful and he is confident that he knows the City Council’s concerns. He plans to make the upcoming legislative session a success as well.

“If we didn’t have eternal optimism, we wouldn’t be legislators,” he said.

The Pullman City Council will take a break for the holidays. Its next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 9.
I had the privilege of addressing the Town Hall meeting last night to provide a citizen's perspective on the proposed stormwater regulations (funny, the "champions of local business" PARDners were nowehere to be seen). Judging from how much time representatives from the Department of Ecology spent with me after the meeting, I guess I was succesful in conveying my opposition.

As you can tell from the article above, we have a very pro-business mayor and city council, especially when compared with Moscow's mayor and city council. Our 9th District legislators are also very pro-business. I'm proud of them all. Unfortunately, I don't think it will make much difference with the Democrats running the show in Olympia.

Two significant things were said last night which I didn't see reported by either the Daily Evergreen or the Daily News.

The stormwater issue affects Washington State University as much as Pullman. Dwight Hagihara, Director of WSU Environmental Health and Safety, said WSU also opposes Pullman/WSU being brought in under these stormwater regulations at this time. The cost of compliance to the university would be over a million dollars a year for the first five years, money which the university does not have.

The funniest/scariest moment, however, happened when Representative Buri asked James Bellatty, the Department of Ecology Water Quality Program Section Manager, if the Washington stormwater standard exceeded the Federal requirements. Bellatty stuttered that he wasn't really sure what the Federal requirements were, or even there were any, so he couldn't say whether or not Washington exceeded them.

UNBELIEVABLE!!!! We will be forced to spend millions of dollars, raise taxes, inconvenience citizens, and drive more business over the border because some pencil-necked bureaucrat in Olympia artificially picked some number. I only recommend going to these meetings if you are not prone to high blood pressure.

If you would like to share your opinions on these stormwater regulations (preferably without profanity) with the Department of Ecology, let me know and I will send you the appropriate e-mail addresses. We have to fight back against this mindless, soulless bureaucracy.


April E. Coggins said...

It's official, there is an Ace Hardware sign on the front of the old Safeway building.

April E. Coggins said...

I don't understand this: Pullman City Supervisor John Sherman encouraged the legislators to support the Streamlined Sales Tax, which would allow local businesses to tax for products sold online. He noted that the tax could allow Pullman entrepreneurs to compete on a larger scale.
Washington retailers who ship out of state currently have the option of collecting sales tax or not for out of state sales. Most choose not to collect sales tax so as to be more price competive. How would collecting sales tax make the small entrepeneur more competive on a larger scale? If Washington State starts requiring sales tax on out of state sales, all of the local on-line entrepeneurs will move to Idaho, where they don't have the requirement.

Tom Forbes said...

The intent of the SST, as I understand, is to make local businesses more competitive because currently Internet sales, unless the store has a brick and mortar presence in Washington, are sales tax free.

SST compels remote sellers to collect taxes in states that have implemented the program (Washington has not yet). According to the Association of Washington Business (AWB), the state currently is losing approximately $240 million annually in taxes from remote sales and local governments are collectively losing $75 million annually.

The AWB suports the legislation: http://www.awb.org/otherissues/2005lo/sstax.asp

Personally, I find the cost of shipping usually balances out tax, and most often the reason I shop online is more one of availability than price.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

Once again my old buddy Mark S. is unable to step over any fence for fear of losing a vote. And go Buri!