The City of The Dalles may move ahead for procedural reasons with the hearing to fund an Economic Improvement District despite a strong showing of opposition by downtown property owners.
Gene Parker, city attorney, said the April 22 hearing could be opened and closed without any testimony being taken. He said it is important the city make sure it has a legally defensible decision about the proposal for a $250 annual assessment on about 200 downtown tax lots.
“We are not trying to influence the process,” he said. “We just need to make sure the process is not flawed.”
Chuck Langley, a Fourth Street business owner, believes the city is determined to push the tax through at any cost. He said holding the hearing despite the opposition of the owners or agents of properties comprising 33 percent of the assessed value for the district — the amount needed to stop its enactment — is proof of that intent.
“I don’t trust them because they play by their own rules and they are definitely not trying to accommodate the public,” he said.
Langley’s comments were sparked by a memo that Parker sent out Thursday alerting media outlets that written objections had been received representing $53,250 of proposed assessments. That is equivalent to 37.4 percent of the total amount proposed to be assessed under the district for three years to pay wages of an executive director for The Dalles Main Street Program, and other costs.
The nonprofit organization wants to hire an individual to market the area and plan promotional events and the city has pledged startup cost of $30,000 in the current fiscal year, $20,000 next year and a final $10,000 in 2014-15.
Parker said some of the signatures on Langley’s petition that represented 71 tax lots may not be valid. He said the signers do not appear to be the owner of record or an authorized agent of the owner.
“I’m not sure it’s the responsibility of the city to verify these signatures, so we are still deciding whether or not to contact the owners,” he said.
Langley said some of the properties are owned by corporations where the owner lives outside the area. He said the manager of the business contacted that individual and asked how he or she wanted to proceed and then signed as the representative.
“It was a difficult thing to figure out in some cases and I think the city has the responsibility to spend some time figuring this out, just like I did,” he said.
In his memo, Parker said the city was advised that members of the Main Street steering committee planned to approach landowners prior to the April 12 cutoff for objections to be submitted. He stated there could possibly be an attempt to persuade the owners to withdraw their objections.
He said, given that potential, it was his recommendation that the city continue collecting comments until April 12 and go ahead with the hearing that has already been scheduled for April 22. He said staff can then brief the council about the status of the proposal and action can be taken to terminate the proposal, if that is the direction business owners wish to go.
Chuck Covert, a member of the Main Street steering committee, said no decision has been made by the group to try to persuade dissenting property owners to change their minds. He said a meeting will take place next week but it is likely the group will defer to business owners on the issue.
“If you have that many people opposed to it, it’s going to be difficult to change their minds — and we need to see something where everybody’s on board,” he said.
Langley said Friday that he had gathered another 10 signatures representing about as many lots and will continue with his efforts until the April 12 deadline. He said even if the city decides to disqualify some of the signers on the original petition, he will have more than enough new ones to make up for that lack.
“This is something that the majority of business owners have told the city they do not want — it’s time for them to listen and respect the will of the people,” he said.