The first public hearing on formation of a new roads service district, expected to be on the November ballot, is set for Wednesday, July 16, at 5:30 p.m. at the Maupin City Park Community Building, 208 Bakeoven Road.
Wasco County commissioners unanimously adopted an order to initiate the formation of a road taxing district, at the June 25 board meeting.
Public Works Director Marty Matherly reported the night before the official board meeting, the city of Shaniko elected to opt in, making itself and the cities of Antelope, Maupin and Dufur the four to be included within the boundaries of the new district.
“The public hearing will be held so that all interested persons may appear at the meeting and be heard,” Matherly said.
“Now that we know who’s all in, we can go about defining the district’s boundaries. Once that’s completed, that information will help us determine the tax rate we’ll need.”
Mosier City Council President Arlene Burns said the city’s decision to opt out was not a unanimous one.
“We gave it a lot of long, hard thought,” she said. “We took what the road department was saying very seriously, and we definitely appreciate the issues facing Wasco County as a whole.”
However, she added, there were several important factors that contributed to their choice to not opt in.
“In Mosier, our sewage and water system needs tremendous upgrades, and those alone could bankrupt the city and cause us to raise our sewer rates for the first time in five years,” Burns said.
“In other words, we have immediate problems that are huge and looming that will require our citizens to cough up and pay and which are much more serious than a hole in the road.” Compared to the $5 the council was considering for increased sewage rates, Burns said the county’s proposed rates for the road district seemed too big to even contemplate.
“For me, the biggest factor was that if Mosier voters were to vote against the road district in the election, we would be the minority in the larger county and the tax would still be implemented on Mosier residents if it passed,” she said. “And that’s just not fair to our residents.”
Burns said that while the council wished to help solve the county’s road issues, it seemed “misguided to tax property owners when they aren’t the ones doing the most damage to the roads in the first place,” as opposed to drivers of vehicles like gravel trucks.
“They had been meeting for 18 months and they brought it to us at the last minute, demanding a decision,” she said. “We were pushed into a corner and had to call an emergency meeting without time enough to get the word out to people because we were so rushed to have the hearing.”
“Our roads are disintegrating a little,” Burns said.
“When it becomes bad enough that we need to do something about it and we’re not a part of some larger county district, we’ll have to deal with it on a city level.
“I reiterate that we really appreciate the efforts the county commissioners have put into solving this,” she said.
“It’s not a matter of us not wanting us to be part of the county, but at this time, our priorities have to be elsewhere in order to solve other, more pressing crises.”
Following Commissioner Steve Kramer’s move to initiate the formation of the new district on June 25, he thanked the road department for their efforts on the project.
Commission chair Scott Hege asked Matherly if there would be any additional information about potential rates available before the public hearing on July 16.
Matherly replied that as of that morning, the road department had not yet received any boundary lines from The City of The Dalles.
“The boundary process is in motion,” he said. “The City of the Dalles is to provide their own boundary for us, so once we get those in place, we’ll be able to generate the rates, and yes, you should have those by the hearing.”
“I really support our road advisory crew and all the effort they’ve expended on this issue,” Commissioner Rod Runyon also added at the close of the meeting. “A lot of hard work’s been put in, and it’s time to bring the discussion to the people and let them decide what to do.”