Water district charging $11,000 hookup bill over 50-year-old meter
Barbara and Jay Hagen sit on one of their tractors at their farm south of Snohomish.
Update: On Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 10 a.m., the water at the house and a barn was shut off but a second barn still has service.
SNOHOMISH — The owners of a 65-year-old family farm are cross over an $11,178 connection charge from the water company over a meter that was installed 50 years ago.
Jay and Barbara Hagen, who run the Hagen Family Farm, say their property rights are being violated. The water company’s general manager calls it business.
Perception seems to be the key factor in the dispute that’s now spanned a year.
Now the Cross Valley Water District slapped the family with a 10 day water shut off notice. The taps may have turned dry Aug. 11 after press time.
The Cross Valley Water District believes the Hagens should have another, separate meter for the two adjacent vacation rental houses the family has owned for decades.
The Hagen Family Farm, which sits on E. Lowell Larimer Road in Snohomish, has been being billed by the district for one house and one barn, while the property also has two vacation rental home.
The houses were for the farm help decades ago, the Hagens said.
Currently, there are two meters on the property: One for the main house and vacation rentals and one for the barn across the road. The Hagen Family Farm has about 100 farm animals.
One meter serving two properties has been like that for 50 years, but now attorneys are hashing over the issue.
“All connections were appropriate under the private water system in place at the time. When Cross Valley was incorporated in 1990 ... property rights would have been vested and been established at the time of the connection,” a letter from the Hagens’ lawyer, David Johnston, states to Cross Valley’s lawyer. “The law implies knowledge upon the district of existing connections that existed in 1964 when the water association was initially formed.”
Charging the Hagens a water connection fee after the fact would deprive “a property right that has existed for decades,” Johnston wrote.
The Hagens want to know why this connection is not being grandfathered 50 years after when there used to be no connection fee.
“That is the question and they’re not answering it,” Jay Hagen, the president of the Snohomish school board, said.
Jay Hagen takes it as the district trying to strong-arm the family to pay up, he wrote in a frustrated letter to Johnston.
“They think that all of a sudden, these houses are rentals, when they’ve been rentals since the 1950s,” Barbara Hagen said. “It’s not like we just opened up the houses. It’s nothing new.”
The district perceives the Hagen’s land differently.
The district wants the Hagens to install another meter.
The water district’s July 16, 2013 meeting minutes state the district’s view that “the Hagen dairy has been converted to a tourist place” based on an employee’s perception.
The employee had brought the issue to attention after reading a June 2013 Tribune profile last year (link opens in new window) on the Hagen’s agritourism business, meeting minutes state.
The employee looked up how the district was billing the site, but found the district was not billing the decades-old vacation houses.
This understanding of the Hagen’s land prompted a water district worker to drop in on Jay and Barbara Hagen in
June 2013, driving up their driveway and getting out.
“First he asked who owns the houses, I said I do,” Jay Hagen said. “Then he asked where the water comes from, and I told him the meter. Then he drove off. It was really odd. Two weeks later, I get a letter from them stating that we have to put a water meter in here because it’s two different tax parcels.”
The Hagens said they have been trying to negotiate with Cross Valley about installing the water meter for the tax parcel the vacation rentals sit on at 1964 prices, not 2014 prices. Cross Valley wants to charge the current connection fee.
Cross Valley is seeking a $11,178 connection fee from the Hagens, which is 81 percent of the current connection charge, to also cover a permit fee from the state Department of Transportation and $5,000 worth of district engineering fees.
Even these fee details are in dispute.
The state Department of Transportation told the Hagens that no engineering fee was required, Barbara Hagen said. They also told the Hagens the permit fee was only $250-$500, not the $5,000 Cross Valley is wanting for a deposit for the fees, documents show.
The district says the $5,000 is for bonding purposes, which raises eyebrows to the Hagens on why the district isn’t bonded already.
The Hagens have not yet paid either fee.
Cross Valley issued a water shut-off notice on Aug. 1 with the deadline of Aug. 11 (after press time).
The water district, which the Hagens have belonged to since 1964, is not regulated by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, so it had the ability to establish a shut-off notice window of less than 14 days.
Jay Hagen said they’re still in negotiations, so the shut-off notice was perplexing.
Curt Brees, the general manager of Cross Valley Water District, told the Tribune last week that the situation is getting resolved by each party’s lawyer.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a dispute, I would characterize it as normal business,” Brees said. “It’s a connection charge. Per each dwelling unit, even if they’re on a separate parcel. There’s multiple dwelling units. When we became aware of it, we informed them that in fact this connection is due per our policy. It’s straightforward, normal business. It’s an honest mistake on the part of the property owner and another connection fee is due.”
Brees declined to comment much further.
Brees came on board the water district in July. His predecessor, former general manager Gary Hajek, led the water district’s cause up until then.
Jay Hagen said the district shouldn’t deprive the farm animals of water.
Jay Hagen said he also wants an itemized list of what, exactly, the money they want from him will go toward.
“The clients have paid for all water provided by the District, there has been no diversion of water, the District has been fully aware of the meters on the two tax parcels and all improvements are in plain sight,” a letter from Johnston, the Hagens’ lawyer, states to Cross Valley’s lawyer.
The water district’s boundaries run almost everywhere in unincorporated Snohomish County west of Snohomish city limits, running as far north as the Fobes Hill area and south through to the King County line.
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