Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"MOSCOW: Council puts price on water; Cost to supply water to Hawkins will be more than double the in-town rate"

I can appreciate that Moscow wants to share in the tax revenue obtained from the Hawkins development. No doubt, Whitman County and Pullman would have loved to share in the tax revenue from the Palouse Mall and Wal-Mart too, considering half the customers that shop at those stores are from Washington. But I don't recall anyone making that offer.

The Whitman County Commissioners are not about to share any tax revenue from Hakwins. The citizens of Moscow elected Queen Nancy and the last City Council that passed the big-box ordinance which drove Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter out of town. They will have to content themselves with the proceeds of selling the water to Hawkins for now and vote their frustrations out on the Her Majesty next year.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The city of Moscow may charge Whitman County two-and-a-half times the in-town commercial rate for water for a retail development just across the state line.

Most Moscow City Council members agreed Monday night that the rate, plus a 5 percent administrative fee, was a fair charge. Moscow plans to sell the water to Whitman County through an intergovernmental agreement for use only at the Hawkins Companies' development, just across the state line from Moscow.

"I think it's a reasonable amount," City Councilman John Weber said. "I think it's a defensible amount."

The city agreed in February to provide Hawkins water at a rate that is "fair and reasonable and consistent with rates and charges set for similarly situated customers of the city." However, Moscow has no similarly situated customers.

Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent e-mailed City Supervisor Gary Riedner earlier this month asking him to clarify how much the city plans to charge. Riedner replied with a letter explaining that Moscow normally charges customers who are out of the city limits twice the in-town rate, but does not have a rate for out-of-state customers. Riedner then asked the City Council for further guidance.

Councilman Wayne Krauss, who first proposed charging two-and-a-half times the in-town rate, said after the meeting that he felt it was "a good middle line."

"You don't want to get the appearance that you're price-gouging," he said.

Krauss said the city can charge what the market will bear, but "what this market will bear, I don't know."

He said the extra 50 percent charge doesn't entirely make up for the tax revenue Moscow would get if the development was in the city.

Councilman Tom Lamar did not agree to the proposed rate, saying it was irrelevant without some sort of analysis to back it up.

"I think that Moscow should try to get the highest rate that it possibly can for selling water across the state line," he said.

Lamar proposed working with Whitman County to share some of the taxes the county makes from the Hawkins development. Councilman Dan Carscallen also supported tax sharing.

Lamar, who has resisted selling water to Hawkins or Whitman County from the beginning, said he still is uncomfortable with the sale.

"I don't think that we should be encouraging this development by having cheap rates and no tax sharing," he said.

Largent said today he was pleased the council came up with a rate, though he has no basis to judge it right now.

"I think we have to look at it and look at the cost to pump our own water" and other factors, he said.

The council will finalize the rate at a public hearing, which most likely will take place Aug. 4.

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