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Partition bill nears approval

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, picked up seven supporters for House Bill 3479 – lowering the amount charged for local lot partitions — in yesterday’s floor vote.

The approval by a 53 to 3 margin came about, said Huffman, because the mandate that fees be lowered from more than $150,000 in some cases to a maximum of $5,000 will apply only to The Dalles. He said three of the 10 legislators who had previously voted against the restriction were satisfied that a Senate amendment had narrowed the scope of the bill so it applied to the only city in the state enacting such a high charge.

The measure was returned to the House for a concurrence vote after the Senate approved it by a 27-2 margin last week with the amendment in place.

Huffman said there was a “general lack of understanding” among both Senate and House members about how citizens in The Dalles could have tried to work with city officials for six years without a solution being found.

“The final vote held with every committee and floor vote in both chambers showing overwhelming sympathy and support for the citizens that they heard from,” said Huffman. “There was a legislative understanding that a community needs to pay for infrastructure, but agreement that the method The Dalles has chosen to use is inappropriate.”

He said because the assessment of $351 per linear foot on street frontage mostly affected the economics of landowners with larger, more rural, lots on the east side of The Dalles, the issue did not gain political traction among citizens in general. Therefore, he said it did not seem as if city officials were intent on finding a way to overcome the impasse with affected residents. He said some of these property owners were being asked to pay more for the assessment than a new lot would have been worth on the real estate market.

“The reality is that allowing more taxable structures to be built affects everyone because the taxes generated by that development are then available to pay for needed services,” said Huffman.

Nolan Young, city manager, said Wednesday that he will now send a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber that requests his veto of House Bill 3479.

“We feel that should happen for two reasons,” said Young. “First, this is a local issue that we can fix locally and, second, the legislation is very similar to what the city was already pursuing with its amendments to the Land use Development Ordinance that were proposed.”

In February, the council decided that residents should continue to pay ahead for infrastructure improvements to accommodate increased traffic and population growth. They did agree to drop the requirement that a landowner pay the assessment at the time of a property sale or after a 10-year period of time had passed.

The elected body also limited the charge per linear foot to the street frontage of the new lot and not the entire property to lower the overall cost.

The affected landowners, some of whom had been protesting the amount of the assessment since 2007, felt the council had not gone far enough to resolve their differences and appealed to Huffman for help.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, was a supporter of HB 3479, which Huffman had authored by Dave Hunnicutt, director of Oregonians in Action, a private property rights advocacy group. Ferrioli said officials from The Dalles do not seem to understand that having landowners prepay for street work that might never happen is a bad idea.

In addition, he said having a property owner pay $152,000 for services to a single new lot, or even two, is not reasonable. He said citizens in The Dalles are being charged the same price for building one house that a developer would be for creating a 20-lot subdivision.

“Everyone understood the arguments, but they sided with the citizens and not the city,” said Ferrioli. “At the end of the day this was an issue of fairness. The costs to develop shouldn’t be crushing and this assessment is just crushing.”

He said formation of Local Improvement Districts, where the cost of infrastructure upgrades is spread among property owners along a street, is a more equitable way to get this work done.

“At the end of the day, this assessment is so large that it is prohibitive,” he said.

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