Coal Creek Utility District approves building sale

March 5, 2015

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Coal Creek Utility District commissioners unanimously approved a deal Feb. 25 to sell its former operations building to the city of Newcastle.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will pay the district $250,000 for the 129th Avenue Southeast building appraised at about $740,000. In addition, the city will agree not to assume the utility for the next 10 years.

The deal has been surrounded by controversy since the Newcastle City Council first approved it in a 4-3 vote Sept. 16. Council members approved it again, by the same vote, Jan. 20.

CCUD Commissioners Pam Martin, Ric Anderson and Doug Kunkel approved the deal after holding a required public hearing on the subject Feb. 11.

Once again, former City Council members Sonny Putter, Bill Erxleben and Jean Garber used the hearing to voice their concerns about the deal.

“I ask that you terminate your proposed agreement to sell the district’s former operations center to the city of Newcastle,” Putter said.

“The agreement is illegal because there is little or no value to the 10-year non-assumption provision in the agreement,” he continued. “It is certainly not worth half a million dollars. Your actions would be in direct violation of state law.”

Putter further contended that the deal was a “blatant attempt to evade the letter and intent,” of the law.

Garber echoed Putter’s sentiments, saying that no real property should be sold for less than its value, according to state law. She added that if the city were to assume it, Newcastle would be a capable steward and employer of the utility.

Both Garber and Erxleben noted that the non-assumption agreement was only of value to the three commissioners who hoped to keep their jobs. If the city assumed the utility, the commission board would be eliminated.

CCUD commissioners Anderson and Kunkel took offense to that notion, with Anderson saying he was appalled someone would suggest he’s just in it to protect his position.

“My first goal is to serve the ratepayers,” he said.

Anderson and Kunkel ultimately decided to table the final decision until Martin, who was absent from the meeting, could weigh in. They resumed consideration of the agreement Feb. 25, when they approved it.

During that meeting, the utility district’s special legal counsel, Andy Maron, offered responses to many of the concerns, ultimately telling the commissioners, “You’re on solid legal ground,” to move forward.

He also provided a list of cities that have non-assumption agreements, including Bothell, Mukilteo, Kirkland and Issaquah.

Before unanimously approving the agreement, the commissioners offered their support of the utility and its staff, all agreeing that it was a “win-win” deal for both parties.

Even with both sides formally approving the purchase-sale agreement, Putter said he and the former council members will continue to fight it through formal complaints and possible litigation.

“This is certainly not going to be the end of our effort to shed light on this issue,” he said.

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