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Washington Supreme Court rules that King County can charge ‘rent’ to utilities using County rights-of-way; increased utility rates expected

November 2016 King County enacted Ordinance 18403 which allows the County to charge rent’ to water, sewer, gas, and electric utilities for being in the roadways and easements (rights-of-way) pursuant to a franchise. The rent does not provide value or benefit to the utilities, instead it will go into the County’s General Fund. Water District 119 along with several other water and sewer districts took legal action to overturn Ordinance 18403, but unfortunately the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of the County in December 2019. The Court’s ruling will result in increases in your utility rates to cover the rent amounts being charged by the County. The specific impact to Water District 119 (WD119) rates are not known at this time because the amount of the rent required to be paid to the County is still undetermined and will be subject to future legal proceedings and/or negotiations. 

What happens next?

Based on a written compensation notice issued by King County to WD119, the County seeks to require WD119 to pay approximately $32,000 per year in rent for the use of County rights-of-way. Whatever the final rent amount is, it will be passed through to WD119 customers. Based on the County’s compensation notice, your water rates will be increased by $2.50 per month ($5.00 per billing cycle) which will be on your next bill.

The County has also recently confirmed its intention to charge WD119 retroactive rent that could go back to 2018, a cost that has not yet been passed on to WD119 customers. The monthly, ongoing charges outlined above do not cover the alleged retroactive obligation. This will equate to an assessment of approximately $50 per household. WD119 will have more information on this in the coming months. 

What can you do?

WD119 is currently evaluating its options. In the meantime, if you have concerns about the County’s Ordinance and Rules and the impact on your utility rates, please contact the King County Council members who have constituents located in unincorporated King County. Listed below are the email addresses and telephone numbers for the councilmembers representing unincorporated areas of the County: 

District 1​rod.dembowski@kingcountry.gov206-477-1001(A sponsor of the Ordinance) 
District 3kathy.lambert@kingcounty.gov206-477-1003(A sponsor of the Ordinance)
District 4jeanne.kohl-welles@kingcounty.gov206-477-1004(Supported the Ordinance)
District 5dave.upthegrove@kingcounty.gov206-477-1005(A sponsor of the Ordinance)
District 7peter.vonReichbauer@kingcounty.gov206-477-1007(Opposed the Ordinance)
District​206-477-1008(Supported the Ordinance)
District 9reagan.dunn@kingcounty.gov206-477-1009(Opposed the Ordinance)

Note: Water District 119 is located in District 3. 

Board of Commissioners 
Water District 119