Puyallup City Council members spent more than an hour Tuesday night debating whether to finalize an ordinance raising landfill fees to pay for bonds to cover a legal settlement.
They heard from citizens. They asked question after question of staff. Eventually, they narrowly approved the second reading of the ordinance in a 3-2 vote.
But in the end it didn’t matter. Two of the council’s seven members were absent, and staff from the city attorney’s office determined there weren’t enough “yes” votes from those in attendance to meet the standards for passage under state law.
An assistant city attorney said at least four “yes” votes — a majority of the whole membership of the council and not just those who were there Tuesday — were required.
That means the ordinance will come back to the council again for second reading, possibly at a study session next week.
The ordinance would raise the bimonthly landfill fee by $3.20 for both residents and businesses starting in March. The city hasn’t operated landfills for years but still has to pay some costs related to the closed sites, which is where the fees come in.
However, the existing fees don’t generate enough to pay the roughly $2 million legal settlement, city staff have said. The existing residential landfill fee is $1.25 and the commercial container fee is $14.67.
The settlement stems from a civil lawsuit filed in 2008 by the owners of two apartment complexes on East Main Avenue. They alleged that gas from a former city landfill migrated to their property.
The council agreed last year to settle the lawsuit.
City staff recommended paying the settlement by issuing bonds and then paying those back over time with money from the increased fees.
After lengthy debate, Mayor Kathy Turner, Deputy Mayor Tami Brouillet and Councilwoman Nicole Martineau cast the three votes to approve the ordinance.
Councilmen John Knutsen and Rick Hansen voted against, saying they believed there were other options.
Councilmen Kent Boyle and Don Malloy were absent.
The council in December approved issuing bonds to pay the settlement, but the bond sale hasn’t happened yet and that ordinance also isn’t finalized.