BBWSD increases connection fees for time shares
In a two-hour special meeting last week the three Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) commission members passed a resolution doubling the cost of hooking up time share condominiums to the water and sewer system.
The special meeting was set up at the regular commission meeting two weeks earlier when resolution #645 came up for discussion and enactment. Local developer Bill Grant of Gold Star Resorts along with several other people had complained that the action was being taken without sufficient notice to current ratepayers.
The resolution was introduced following consideration of a five-year study done by BBWSD staff that indicated water consumption for time share condominiums was much higher than previously thought, nearly two and a half times the usage reflected in the fees being charged to hook up to the system.
BBWSD general manager Roger Brown said that the commissioners were willing to table the issue and hold a special meeting because they are “of the belief that the process should be right. In this case the need to make the change in rates was identified after they already had a signed developer extension contract in hand relative to the Sand Castle project, so when Grant asked for a public discussion they agreed.” Commissioners also voted two weeks ago to exempt the Sand Castle project from rate increases due to resolution #645. Passing resolution #645 would have added another $124,000 in direct costs to Grant’s project. Construction has already started on the $8 million Sand Castle project that includes 49 time share condominiums.
Grant, who submitted his comments by memo, still objected to the increase because he felt raising the rates made Birch Bay less competitive with other possible locations for similar projects, and it also failed to take into account the district’s responsibility to support local economic development. He pointed out that water districts in places such as Leavenworth and Ocean Shores “take a more aggressive approach in providing favorable rates to hotel/motel and time share facilities.”
The district recoups the cost of hooking up new construction to its system through General Facilities Charges (GFCs), which are also a way of assigning the costs of extending service to new developments. The five-year district study indicated that without such charges, over $15 million in costs would have to be shifted from developers to current ratepayers over the next 10 years. There are currently close to 1,400 lots in the process of getting water and sewer service within the district.
The rate for time share condominiums historically has been figured at one-half that for a single family residence, the same as for a hotel or motel room. But in a five year water usage analysis of the 104-unit Ocean Breezes complex at Birch Bay, it was discovered that those time share condominiums use as much as 30 percent more water than a single family residence.
The report pointed out that the BBWSD is not allowed to recoup costs through taxation but can charge for new hookups. The fairest way to do this on a pro rata basis, according to the district’s usage analysis, basing it on the amount of water used. “Ocean Breezes time share units use approximately 148 gallons of water per day,” the report said.
The issue of district fees supporting economic development took much of the meeting time. District attorney Bob Carmichael pointed out that state law says commissioners “are not to take into account the promotion of economic development when setting these charges.”
Commission president Don Montfort said that it was impossible not to have the community’s economic health in mind when setting policy. “For me,” Montfort said, “the issue is what a fair pro rata share is for a given type of development.” He suggested that staff continue to research the usage impact of hotel/motel type accommodations since they will continue to be charged half the hookup rate of a single family residence.