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New development charges on The Dalles city agenda

The Dalles City Council will consider Monday whether to raise the charge for sanitary service provided to new or expanding development from the current maximum of $1,789 to $2,572 or somewhere in between.

“Staff is looking to see if there is any indication that the council wants to do anything with that charge,” said Gene Parker, city attorney.

The elected body meets 5:30 p.m. April 22 at City Hall, 313 Court Street.

The increased fee has been recommended by Dave Anderson, public works director, to cover some of the costs associated with a $17 million upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant. Toward that end, the council approved a series of 3.44 percent rate increases in sewer bills that began March 1 and will continue by the same amount each March through 2022.

The treatment plant upgrades are planned to be completed in three phases, the first two of which address deficiencies and replace aging or outdated equipment. The third phase sets the stage to expand operations to meet growth needs.

Carollo Engineers, a firm based in Portland, estimates that 20,429 people will be served by the East First Street plant in 2022 and 23,203 by 2030. Those projections have been based on the recent 1.6 percent increase in residents, now about 15,000, that is anticipated to rise slightly to 1.9 percent and then drop to 1.3 percent through 2030.

The improvements at the treatment plant will be funded by the issuance of revenue bonds in 2014, 2017 and 2020, each repaid over 20 years. The city has already banked $3.2 million that will be used to help cover some of the project costs.

System Development Charges are one-time fees collected at the time of development to cover the cost of more traffic on roadways and greater use of water and sewer services.

“One of the challenges of setting SDCs is striking a balance between having new development pay for its share of new infrastructure while not having SDCs so high that they provide a disincentive to growth,” wrote Anderson in his report to the council.

“Establishing SDCs at the maximum level that can be justified provides assurance to the existing customer base that development is paying its way.”

He said the city has not historically implemented the maximum allowable charges. The current water fee is 80 percent of the maximum calculated in 2006 and both transportation and stormwater charges are 19 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of the figures calculated in 2007.

The current wastewater charge is 87 percent of the 2002 calculated amount and 70 percent of the new potential rate, according to Anderson.

Data from the League of Oregon cities included with his report shows that, if The Dalles raises its sanitary service charge, the town will be in the middle range of fees imposed by other municipalities within the state. Madras tops the list of six similar-sized cities with a fee of $4,634 and Hood River is ranked last with a $1,508 charge.

Also on the agenda for the April 22 meeting is a public hearing where written objections to enactment of an Economic Improvement District will be read into the record.

Parker said the city has received well over the number of objections needed to stop the district that covers the downtown blocks from forming. He said opposition letters were filed by property owners representing more than 39.8 percent of the total amount of assessment to be levied over three years, almost seven points more than was needed to shut the project down.

“The real purpose of the hearing will be to officially acknowledge the letters that have been submitted,” he said. “There will also be an opportunity for people to submit an objection or withdraw one — although I don’t really see that happening at this point. The purpose of the hearing is to make sure we have followed the entire process correctly.”

The money generated by the assessment would have been used to pay the wages of an executive director for The Dalles Main Street Program, a nonprofit organization, over a three-year period. That individual would have been responsible to fill some of the 40 empty store fronts by marketing the area and planning promotional events.

The majority of property owners with downtown holdings objected to paying the $250 annual assessment per tax lot, up to a total of three lots, during tough economic times.

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