The city of Spokane Valley isn’t wading out into the litigious weeds of the court system just yet.
Instead, City Council members decided Tuesday night to see if the mayor of Liberty Lake and three property owners will have any success in court in getting back over $1 million in funds for a decade’s worth of fees that were improperly collected for noxious weed control in that city and Spokane Valley.
Should the plaintiffs prevail in Spokane County Superior Court, the civil suit could become the basis of a class-action that would benefit more than 50,000 property owners in the two municipalities.
Up through 2013, Spokane Valley property owners paid about $95,000 per year – a minimum of $3 annually per parcel – for weed control since incorporation in 2003. Liberty Lake land owners paid about $9,000 annually during that same time. Meanwhile, the cities of Cheney, Deer Park and Airway Heights have been paying $600 annually and property owners in those municipalities paid nothing.
While arrangements have been made through Spokane County – which has the legal authority granted by the state of Washington to operate the Noxious Weed Control Board – and other jurisdictions for weed control, a higher unincorporated rate continued for 10 years in the newly incorporated cities.
Since the error was discovered, the board has come up with a new $2 rate for every parcel in the county, including in the incorporated areas. While that would lower the cost to land owners in Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake, it won’t rectify the past 10 years, some council members argued on Tuesday.
“Could we, as a city, consider doing a class-action (lawsuit)?” asked Council Member Chuck Hafner.
Cary Driskell, city attorney, said that kind of legal action has to come from individuals – and it has in the form of Peterson’s lawsuit.
“If it’s successful, all citizens (affected) will be successful,” he said.
Some council members were critical of whether it was necessary to have the county doing weed control in the city at all.
“We’re not represented on that board,” said Council Member Rod Higgins, adding that taxation-without-representation started the Revolutionary War “on that principle.”
Driskell said that the state law trumps any city action other than voicing an objection. The weed board is authorized to provide a service to citizens, he said, and that even if Spokane Valley refused that service, the county could still collect under some new assessment formula.
City staffers will continue to brief the council as the lawsuit progresses the court system.
In other news, the council gave final approval to several comprehensive plan changes, including a rezone allowing Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to utilize property on North Bradley for a dog-run adjacent to its new shelter on Trent Avenue. The new SCRAPS shelter, located in the former Harley-Davidson dealership, opened this week.