"Bremerton, Bainbridge go to court over I-695"

"Off the ballot and into the courtrooms Initiative 695 goes.Bainbridge Island and Bremerton took the issue to court on Wednesday, with a suit that claims the initiative is unconstitutional.The two cities want the court to kill the entire initiative by barring its enforcement. Failing that, they want the court to clarify whether all city fees, from dog licenses to photocopy charges, are subject to voter approval.Initiative sponsor Tim Eyman said it was his intent to make every little fee subject to voter approval. He said that empowers voters to keep taxes and fees in check; otherwise, governments that lost their motor vehicle excise tax cash cow would find new ways to milk voters, Eyman said.“This way, they (government officials) will only come to us (voters) for really important increases,” Eyman said.But Bainbridge and Bremerton officials say I-695 doesn’t change some statutes that give cities authority to raise fees.For example, a section in state law allowing cities to set sewer rates was not included in the initiative, said Bremerton city attorney Glenna Malanca, and she believes there are 20 to 50 more similar laws not touched by I-695.So although the spirit of Eyman’s initiative meant to include these statutes, the letter of the law made no changes. That’s why the cities want the courts to clarify this issue.“The city council feels the responsibility to, before relinquishing our authority, find out if it was indeed negated by 695,” Malanca said. “If it was not a valid taking of those responsibilities, then we need to have them reinstated.”The city of Lakewood joined Bremerton and Bainbridge in one part of the suit. That section doesn’t claim the initiative is unconstitutional, but it calls the requirement of voter approval on all tax and fee increases “ambiguous” and “vague.”The three cities claim that city charges for proprietary goods and services shouldn’t be subject to voter approval.“In addition, other governmental fees, charges and taxes are determined by factors outside the control of local government, and these ... should not be included in the voter approval requirement,” Seattle attorney James Robart, who is representing the cities, wrote in the suit.According to Malanca and Bainbridge Island Mayor Dwight Sutton, the two cities initiating the claim have slightly different philosophies in trying to overturn I-695.“This suit reflects the underlying feelings and philosophy of Bainbridge Island citizens,” said Sutton. “I feel strongly that we should take this position on their behalf.”Although two-thirds of Bainbridge residents rejected I-695, 54 percent of Bremerton residents approved the measure. That’s why Malanca said, “Bremerton wants to put emphasis on (questions of) authority and responsibility” brought in the suit.“We don’t believe the voters’ intent was to include those fees” like dog licenses in the initiative’s requirement for a vote on all tax increases, Malanca said. “They don’t see taxes as dog licenses.”Malanca and Sutton crafted a carefully worded joint press release to inform area residents about their intentions in filing the suit.The release uses words like “clarification” to talk about the suit’s intent, but Sutton said they would not be filing this suit if they didn’t think I-695 could be overturned by it.Sutton added that he expects more cities to join in the suit; two possibilities are a Pierce county city and one in southeastern Washington."

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