Covell v. City of Seattle

In Covell v. City of Seattle, 127 Wn.2d 874, 905 P.2d 324 (1995), the Court first sought to ascertain the central rationale for enactment of Seattle's street utility charges by focusing on the legislative language found in the ordinances themselves: Although there is language in the ordinances requiring the adoption of a transportation plan along with a funding plan, most of the regulatory language is devoted to fiscal planning rather than toward the type of service or benefit for those who pay fees. . . . The ordinance language with regard to street improvement and maintenance is of an extremely general nature, and the thrust of the legislation is clearly on funding. Covell, 127 Wn.2d at 880-81. The Court concluded: "The primary concern of these enactments is with collecting money to pay for public improvements rather than with public health, safety, or welfare." Id. at 883. In Covell, the Court defined property taxes as "an absolute and unavoidable demand against property or the ownership of property." The Court wrote: In this case, the street utility charge is not levied against the exercise of any particular right of ownership. Rather, the charge is imposed for the "use or availability of the streets." SMC 21.100.030. The amount of the charge, however, is levied against property owners to accomplish the public benefit of improving streets. Consequently, the street utility charge, as assessed, must be declared unconstitutional. Covell, 127 Wn.2d at 891.