MLIRD funding bill faces glitch
MOSES LAKE – A bill sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) and intended to fix the current disability of the Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District recently passed the state Senate, but may have hit the a hurdle as it heads to the state House of Representatives.
“We may not have gotten it right,” Warnick said during a phone call early Wednesday from Olympia, where the state legislature is currently in session.
Warnick, who authored Senate Bill 5460, said Grant County Treasurer Darryl Pheasant contacted him and Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, about the bill, expressing concern that the law doesn’t really fix the problems. of MLIRD. Warnick said she and Dent were planning to talk to Pheasant about his concerns with the bill before the House version moves forward.
“Looks like we have some work to do,” Warnick said.
Warnick’s measure changes current legislation, authored in 1963, to allow for the creation of reclamation districts, which gave districts the ability to assess up to $1 per $1,000 in total assessed property value to about -75 cents per irrigation lot. and 25 cents for the rehabilitation portion – to take care of the lake.
The change is necessary because Moses Lake-area landowner — and former MLIRD board member — Mick Hansen challenged the MLIRD’s assessment of his property in Grant County Superior Court, claiming the district did not could impose taxes under state law governing irrigation districts because the MLIRD did not provide significant water to the district’s property owners for irrigation.
In a decision later upheld by the Washington State Court of Appeals, then-Superior Court Judge David Estudillo found in Hansen’s favor. As a result, the MLIRD’s ability to levy assessments on residents and fund its operations was limited to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value under the rehabilitation portion of the statute.
However, Pheasant — who joined the original lawsuit against MLIRD — said the proposed changes still treat the assessment as a tax, something irrigation districts are not allowed to do under state law.
“There is no law in place for people to vote on a tax,” Pheasant said. “And there are many problems with a tax. Some seniors will be excluded, but an irrigation district has no way to account for that effectively.”
A key issue at play is the distinction in Washington state law between a tax and an assessment. According to Pheasant, a levy is a general tax that does not necessarily provide a benefit to the taxpayer. For example, all Grant County property owners pay a portion of their property tax to cover school operations even if they do not have children in public schools.
However, an assessment is levied on those who receive a direct benefit from the district or government concerned. For example, many Grant County property tax bills contain direct assessments for weed control and mosquito control districts and the county’s conservation district. Dedicated irrigation districts like the Eastern Columbia Basin Irrigation District set their own assessments and conduct their own elections, limited only to property owners who receive water from the district, according to state law.
MLIRD Board President Bill Bailey said Warnick’s law does not give the district the ability to tax and that MLIRD is looking at ways to assess the property fairly so that the benefits of living near the lake and maintaining the lake for recreation to be properly assessed. landowners within the district. MLIRD has the right to use 50,000 hectares of water from Moses Lake every year for irrigation purposes.
“This gives us the ability to assess rather than tax, primarily under the rehabilitative aspect of the law,” Bailey said. “The courts have ruled that we must impose benefits.”
Bailey said MLIRD is currently looking at ways to provide lake water for irrigation, primarily to the city of Moses Lake, which could also end up paying an assessment to the district.
“This is a benefit to the city of Moses Lake,” he said.
Pheasant said he originally proposed a formula for rehabilitation areas similar to that created under the law for mosquito control areas. While listed on tax bills as an assessment, Washington law calls property tax within a mosquito control district a tax, limits it to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and gives control district boards mosquitoes the ability to classify property within districts based on the benefits to the property owner from mosquito control.
“I will never support a tax unless it goes to the voters first,” Pheasant said.
MLIRD is the only irrigation and reclamation district in Washington State.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at [email protected]