Growth Management Board wants Stevens County tax money withheld

By Associated Press

Dec 4, 2003

Stevens County, WA - A state board wants Gov. Gary Locke to cut off tax money for Stevens County to force compliance with the Growth Management Act.

The three-member Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board says county commissioners have failed for two years to adopt an adequate "critical areas ordinance" to protect wetlands and other sensitive land.

The county actually has two such ordinances on the books, but the hearings board says neither one is good enough.

For the third time in two years, on Nov. 14, the hearings board found Stevens County out of compliance with the Growth Management Act. The board gave the county 90 days to remedy the problem, but followed up on Nov. 17 with a letter asking Locke to impose economic sanctions.

County commissioners and Locke received the letter Monday.
Under state law, Locke could economically cripple the county by cutting off all state-shared revenue.

Michael Marchand, deputy communications director for the governor said, "We are evaluating the case here in the office, and hope to make a decision in the near future.
Marchand said it was too soon to say how Locke might approach the issue.

In 1996, after Chelan County commissioners filed lawsuits alleging the Growth Management Act was unconstitutional, then-Gov. Mike Lowry withheld $140,000 a month in state road money from the county. The money was released with interest, $866,000 in all, in early 1997 when two newly elected commissioners changed the county's course.

Later in 1997, with Locke as governor, the growth board took a similar action against Ferry County. Locke declined to consider sanctions as long as he saw hope for a settlement, and Ferry County commissioners eventually papered over their differences with the growth board.

Stevens County Commissioner Merrill Ott said commissioners will send their own letter to Locke in hopes of convincing him the growth board is being unreasonable.

Ott said, "We absolutely want to comply. We want to get it done as quickly as possible."

He said, failure to resolve the issue is hurting the county's economy by preventing development. A Growth Management Act-related moratorium is preventing land from being divided into parcels smaller than 20 acres.


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