A bill providing fiscal relief to counties and cities is still moving in the Senate but has morphed to answer criticism from environmentalists who fear delaying local planning work for too long.
The proposal, House Bill 1478, is meant to let local governments save money during the slow economic recovery. It would delay some costly planning efforts by lengthening the time between updates on growth management and shorelines plans.
A new agreement that emerged this week from the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee on a unanimous vote would let cities and counties revise their plans once every eight years – up from seven years in current law but less than the once-a-decade cycle sought earlier by local governments.
And in a twist that appears counter to the bill’s overall intent, HB 1478 now requires six counties that file “buildable lands” reports every five years to do them every four years. And it omits language that makes the plans contingent on funding.
Dave Williams of the Association of Washington Cities and some lawmakers said they were surprised by the change on the lands inventories – which Thurston, Pierce, King, Snohomish, Kitsap and Clark must carry out.
“The concern I have is getting rid of the language that pays for it,” said Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, a major negotiator on the bill in the House.
“It may not be the end of the world,” he added Friday. “We’re spitting distance from a solution. . . . I think we’re very close.”
Springer said it makes sense under the latest approach to “synch up” shoreline and growth management updates in the same year, avoiding duplication of effort. Springer said he’s fine with the other changes that Democratic Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver worked out with Republican Sen. Dan Swecker in the Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee this week.
Senate lawmakers of both parties backed the new approach unanimously, and HB 1478 awaits further action on the Senate floor. The measure also would give local entities three more years – until 2018 – to meet state requirements for shifting vehicle fleets to alternative fuels.
“I think that is a pretty good sign there is intent to keep moving it,” April Putney of environmental advocacy group Futurewise of Washington said of the unanimous vote.
Putney pushed for the eight-year reviews of key plans as a compromise. She said it links the planning to local government budget cycles and offers a balance that should save money for cities and counties.
Putney and other advocates for Puget Sound were unwilling to delay the updates to every 10 years because of how rapidly growth has changed some counties in the past 10 years. They also had pushed for a compromise that would let the Department of Ecology draft new stormwater rules next year but won’t be binding until treatment permits are renewed in 2013.
Williams of the cities group said he still was looking into the significance of the buildable lands issue.
“The data collection is expensive – not overly so, but it costs money. We used to get $1 million a year in a grant that was given out to those counties to collect the data,” Williams said, adding that cities would have preferred an eight-year cycle.
But overall, Williams said the new bill “looks pretty good” and “takes some pressure points off. It gives us some more breathing room. It gives us time for the economy to improve and let us pay for these things.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org