County joins suit against Initiative 722

Sunday, December 24, 2000

by Ken Short for the Peninsula Daily News

Port Angeles, WA -
The Clallam County Board of Commissioners voted Friday to join a statewide class-action lawsuit challenging Initiative 722.

Soon after Commissioners Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, voted ``to protect the county from risk,'' Sequim businessman Bob Ford stood up at their courthouse work session and said they should be ``ashamed'' for joining a lawsuit that would overturn a measure supported by more than 59 percent of Clallam voters last month.

"You are joining a lawsuit to overturn the will of the people,'' Ford said. ``I think it's appalling that you want to join. You should be ashamed of yourselves '' stay out of it.''

The so-called ``son of I-695'' initiative, promoted by Mulkiteo businessman and tax fighter Tim Eyman, would return certain tax or fee increases levied by local governments between July 1 and Dec. 31, 1999 '' in the shadow of I-695 passed in November 1999.

The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of I-722 -- which was passed statewide by more than 55 percent of the voters on Nov. 7 -- was filed in Thurston County, where a judge later said Clallam and other counties could join in.

Doherty and Tharinger said that their Friday authorization protects the county from the expense of defending against citizens' lawsuits.  

"I'm here to protect the county from risk," Tharinger said.  "If the initiative is found to be constitutional, I will be totally behind it."

Commissioners are waiting for the judge's ruling before returning $80,000 in property taxes and $197,700 in permit fees governed by I-722.

It makes fiscal sense to wait, Doherty said, citing the high administrative costs if permit fees had to be reimbursed.

"Do we risk all of the administrative costs or do we save those costs?" he asked.

'Precautionary action'

But Ford, an I-722 supporter, said Doherty's argument holds no weight for the majority of county voters who supported the initiative.

"What I see you doing is taking a precautionary action," Ford said. "You guys are covering your butts with arguments about legal ramifications."

Those permit fees were increased dramatically in August 1999.

For example, final plat approval permit costs in Clallam County increased 400 percent from $25 to $125.  Conditional use permits shot up from $300 to $750.

Doherty said the increases followed negotiations with the county's development community.  Property taxes had subsidized those fees for many years, he said.

Commissioner Carole Boardman, D-Port Angeles, was absent from Friday's session.

Jefferson County commissioners rolled back permit fee increases to pre-July 1999 levels when I-722 became law Dec. 7.

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