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Rates, Utility Tax, Rental Charge

Posted on: January 1, 2020

Court Sides with King County on Right of Way Rental Charge (Issue 185)



The Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling in early December approving the authority of King County to charge rent to utilities using the right of way for the location of utility lines. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by King County in response to the resistance of water and sewer districts, including Lakehaven, to pay right of way rental charges imposed under a King County ordinance adopted in 2017. 

In reversing an earlier decision of the King County Superior Court declaring the charge illegal, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the argument that the rental charge was an unlawful tax on the revenues of the districts. While it accepted that a county could not unilaterally impose rental fees in franchise agreements, it also agreed with King County that districts are not permitted by state law to locate  facilities in county right of way without County approval. The result appears to be that districts must pay to use the right of way or face the prohibitive expense of moving lines to private easement.

The District will be evaluating the impact of this rental charge on customer water and sewer rates within the unincorporated areas of King County. More information on that impact will be communicated to ratepayers as the details of the implementation of rental charges are known.

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