Habitat waiver request splits Council

The city had been asked to let the housing group off the hook for about $4,000 in water and sewer fees.

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WALLA WALLA -- A request for a fee waiver by Habitat for Humanity had the City Council caught between a rock and a soft spot, as Council members argued against waiving a $4,121 connection fee tied to public enterprise funds or doing "the right thing" for the nonprofit that helps build low-cost homes for low-income families.

"The gentlemen (Habitat for Humanity representatives) had asked for a break, and I think it is in our best interest to give them a break. They are providing affordable housing in this city, and I implore you to give them a break," Council member Shane Laib said, just before a motion that failed to provide a financial break for the nonprofit.

At issue were capital facilities charges of $2,234 for sewer and $1,887 for water. The fees are charged to pay for the city's cost of adding new residential hookups. The monies are then placed in their respective enterprise funds. Without charging the fees, monthly ratepayers would have to pay the costs of adding new houses to the system via their monthly water and sewer bills.

But those water and sewer funds are in high demand to pay for infrastructure repair around the city.

"It is hard for me on one day to advocate the need for capital investment in our dire infrastructure (situation) and then on the next day to say go ahead and waive this fee," City Manager Nabiel Shawa said, who recommended against the waiver.

Shawa and Council members were also concerned that if the waiver was allowed, other low-income housing groups, such as BMAC and the Walla Walla Housing Authority, would make similar requests.

"For us it is 10 percent of our total material costs, so it is a very significant cost for us, but I do understand the concern and the need for that ... and I would also consider any portion that might be acceptable," Habitant for Humanity Blue Mt. Partners President Randal Bollinger said.

But no portion of a discount was passed Wednesday night.

Council members Dominick Elia, Jerry Cummins and Laib voted to allow the full $4,121 waiver, while Jim Barrow, Conrado Cavazos, Mayor Barbara Clark and Fred Mitchell voted against.

Two motions followed -- one that would have allowed a $1,000 waiver and the second to allow a $424 waiver -- but both failed, with Elia, Laib and Cavazos voting in favor and Cummins, Mitchell, Cavazos and Clark voting against in both later votes.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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