Water fight: District standing firm on $11,000 connection fee at farm
Farm still without water as of last week
Barbara Carlson and Jay Hagen sit on one of their tractors at their farm south of Snohomish.
Past coverage: August 13 | August 20
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SNOHOMISH — The dispute over a family farm getting billed over a 50-year-old water meter connection is continuing to spill over frustrations.
The dispute between Hagen Family Farm and Cross Valley Water District escalated Aug. 12 when the water district shut off the Hagens’ water at one of their two adjoining properties.
Since the taps ran dry, farmer Jay Hagen’s been hauling water, bucket by bucket, up the hill from one barn with running water to another barn affected by the shut off. His family home also has no water.
Cross Valley’s general manager Curt Brees was open to discussing the district’s procedures, but said he would not engage in disputing Hagen’s issue through the media.
Cross Valley is asking for an $11,000 connection fee for a separate water meter on one of Hagen’s two parcels.
Hagen and his lawyer, David Johnston, filed an appeal to the connection fee in late January.
Hagen said the January appeal has not been acknowledged by the water district, but in the district’s eyes, Hagen missed a much later appeal deadline triggered by the shutoff notice.
Brees explained the water district’s appeals process.
“There definitely was a defined right of appeal when we sent out the 10-day notice,” he said.
That shutoff notice Brees is referring to came out Aug. 1, 2014.
“In the event that a property owner disputes the amount set forth, they’re entitled to a right of appeal and go forth into a hearing with the general manager,” Brees said. “They have to submit a written request, due by the payment date. We would have received comment up until the day before, but that is not what happened, the customer (Hagen) said nothing.”
After which, Brees said, the water district went ahead with the shut off.
The biggest question for the Hagens is why their property can’t be grandfathered in. Since a water agreement was made in 1964 and appeared solid until recently, why can’t it be grandfathered in?
“We don’t grandfather anybody,” Brees said.
The water district sets its policies and operating procedures by state law. The district is not regulated by the state’s Transportation and Utilities Commission.
Brees said the district sticks with its bylaws, and the bylaws say each dwelling unit must be charged a connection fee.
“We have all the logs from the ‘60s, from all the parcels, and when it becomes discovered that there is more than one dwelling unit being served by a meter then we pursue those connection fees,” Brees said.
Such is the case with Hagen Family Farm.
In the Hagens’ case, Cross Valley is charging an $11,000 connection fee. Cross Valley believes the Hagen Family Farm should have a separate water meter for two vacation houses located on the family’s property on an adjoining tax parcel.
“These connection fees are sometimes hard for people to get a handle on,” Brees said. “They are reflective of the cost to buy into the system, what’s been paid for by other customers, our infrastructure. What the concept is, that new connection to the system of a newly discovered old connection to the system, (the customer) must pay their fair share. We don’t make up those fees, they don’t go into my salary, they go into the system.”
The same tax parcel has two small houses — originally used for farmhands but now rented as vacation cottages — and a small barn with sheep and pigs that had been getting water from the main house’s water meter for 50 years until the shutoff.
The large barn has water. Hagen has nearly 100 animals on this farm and has been hauling water from the large barn to the smaller barn.
Hagen tried negotiating with the district, but the district doesn’t appear to be budging.
“I hope to settle this peacefully, out of court. We have not filed suit,” Hagen told the Tribune. “It is a unique situation.”
Hagen also said Brees did reach out to him recently but the conversation was not what he expected.
“Curt Brees called me up, said let’s talk,” Hagen said. “I said, ‘Sure,’ and then he said ‘so we’re going to talk about how you’re going to pay that 11,178 dollars.’ It was right to the money. The conversation ended right after that. … How can you negotiate with something like that?”
Hagen said the whole situation has been frustrating because not only is Cross Valley seemingly not willing to negotiate, but when he thought they were in negotiations, his water was shut off.
“We wouldn’t be pursuing this if we didn’t feel we are in the right,” Hagen’s longtime girlfriend, Barbara Carlson, said. “We’re vested in this community, so it’s really unsettling. We’ve got better things to do than this but we feel we’re in the right.”
With both sides possibly now entrenched, Cross Valley’s perceives litigation is on the horizon because of “statements made by Mr. Hagen in other media outlets,” Brees said.