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Consultant fees may table Wal-Mart talks

POULSBO — The fate of the next Wal-Mart hearing in Little Norway is hanging in the balance this week as city staff says Citizens to Stop Wal-Mart has a bill to pay first.

The non-profit is still trying to decide whether members believe they should have to pay the amount in the given time line.

The City of Poulsbo is in the process of hearing two appeals from CSW that were filed by lawyer Ryan Vancil of Seattle firm Bricklin, Newman and Dold. The first appeal (filed May 29) disputes the Environmental Impact Statement used to prepare the 1997 Olhava Master Plan. The second appeal (filed June 17) is against the approval of Olhava site 4A, where Wal-Mart hopes to locate.

As per the Poulsbo Municipal Code (PMC), CSW was required to pay a $1,500 consultant deposit per appeal. Those fees paid for the retention of consultant Gordon McDonald of Parametrix, who testified at the June 26 public hearing and was present at the June 24 and 25 and July 2 meetings.

A letter dated June 27 from City Engineer John Stephenson informed Vancil that while a bill had not yet been received for McDonald’s services, that the amount would likely exceed $3,000.

Municipal code requires appellants to pay for all consultant fees associated with an appeal.

Finance Director Donna Bjorkman announced at the July 9 city council meeting that McDonald’s final bill was about $3,915. Wednesday Bjorkman asked city council members what their wish was regarding either billing CSW for $915, or a total $3,915. The larger amount would replenish the $3,000 deposit the PMC requires to be on hand at all times.

Council members were sympathetic to what Councilwoman Kathryn Quade called the “Shoestring budget” CSW is on, however, they deferred the decision to staff.

“I’d rather have the staff attend to this matter and follow the code,” Councilman Mike Regis commented.

A letter and itemized bill dated July 10 was sent to Vancil stating that the $915 needs to be paid by July 15. Bjorkman also called Vancil on the matter. If the amount is not settled by Tuesday, the public hearing over CSW’s appeals planned for 6:30 p.m. July 16 at Christ Memorial Church will be cancelled.

Bjorkman added that CSW’s failure to pay the amount before July 15 will not squash the appeal altogether.

“All it means is we need to be reimbursed and (the hearing) would be continued on to another date,” she explained.

The July 10 letter also stated that the city did not expect there to be any further consultant fees billed to CSW. However, if during the rest of the hearings the City of Poulsbo determines it needs McDonald’s expertise again, CSW will be billed for that.

Members of CSW expressed frustration this week to find out that the bill was so much.

“We’re pretty much universally outraged that they’re trying to charge us for what seems to be their expenses,” CSW legal committee member Van Bergen said of the city’s bill. “We feel like Gordon McDonald’s testimony was pretty much useless. It seems like they’re trying to run up a big bill to shut us up.”

Bergen said that his interpretation of the PMC was that it says both a consultant bill must be paid before a hearing continues and that the appellant has 30 days to pay the fee.

“It’s so vague you could argue either way,” Bergen said.

Bjorkman countered that the City Attorney’s interpretation said that the code says after 30 days a bill will begin accruing interest but that it must be paid before the hearing can move forward. She said that she felt the offer was a good deal for CSW since it doesn’t request the additional $3,000 to replenish the consultant deposit.

“The city was really trying to do what we felt would be the best part because we could have required the $3,000,” she added.

The final decision on how CSW will handle the bill, whether to pay it or to ask for more of a clarification, will be up to Vancil.

Bergen said if CSW ends up paying the bill, that the non-profit has enough money in its coffers to cover the entire amount.

“We won’t like it, but we’ll pay it,” Bergen commented.

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