With a stroke of his pen Monday, Gov. John Kitzhaber immediately lowered the amount of an assessment that can be charged in The Dalles for minor lot partitions to no more than $5,000.
The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence said the final approval of House Bill 3479 necessitates that the city council get a legal analysis of its parameters from City Attorney Gene Parker. He said legislative action to address citizen complaints has necessitated a broader discussion of the city’s capital improvement plan.
“We need to figure out where we go from here and rebuild our relationship with citizens,” he said. “I wasn’t in office when this issue first came up and a task force was put together in 2007 to come up with recommendations for change. For that reason, I would really appreciate taking a look back in history and holding an in-depth discussion of how we got where we are.”
HB 3479 was sponsored by Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and written by Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians in Action, a private property rights advocacy group. The bill that applied only to The Dalles was introduced at the request of landowners on the east side of town who were facing assessments of $50,000 to $152,000 to carve a new lot on their larger, more rural, properties. Citizens said, in some cases, the market value of their lot was less than the amount they were being charged for future infrastructure improvements.
“We all need to be willing to come together now and figure out what we can pay for improvements in a way that doesn’t hamper growth,” said Huffman after learning that his bill had become law.
“A number of counties in the state seem to have figured out the right process to use and I don’t know why we can’t learn from them.”
In February, the city council decided that residents should continue to pay the $351 per linear foot assessment on street frontage to cover the cost of upgrades to accommodate increased traffic and population growth. To address some of the citizen concerns, the elected body agreed 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 council also limited the square footage for the assessment to the new lot and not the entire property in an effort to lower the overall cost.
The affected landowners, some of whom had been protesting since 2006, felt the council had not gone far enough to resolve their differences and appealed to Huffman for help.
Nolan Young, city administrator, and Parker wrote letters of opposition to House and Senate members, as well as the governor, on the belief that the legislature was intervening in an issue that should have been resolved locally.
Gerry Dennee, one of the affected landowners, said Monday that city officials do not seem to understand that the amount of the assessment is much too high. She said putting one or two houses on a lot won’t increase city services enough to justify paying tens of thousands of dollars for street work.
“This was always about the money and I don’t think the city gets that,” she said.
She said HB 3479 also provides landowners partitioning land with a choice about signing agreements not to protest formation of a Local Improvement District to cover the cost of improvements.
“Basically, people were being made to sign under duress in order to develop their property,” she said. “That is, in my opinion, an infringement of their First Amendment rights.”
Gerry and her husband, John, plan to submit the application to create a new lot on their East 10th Street property that has been held up for years because a price tag of $52,000 was formerly attached.
Lawrence said the council needs to revisit the basis for the disputed assessment, which was to match the amount charged if an LID formed. He said the city has been unable to establish one of these taxing districts in a residential area for at least 16 years due to citizen opposition over the costs.