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Culver Council, DVWD drop talk of franchise fee

Plan unpopular among residents

   The city of Culver and Deschutes Valley Water District have reached an agreement. The city won't charge a franchise fee for water meters, and DVWD won't charge rent on its fire hydrants.
   After months of consideration of a 3 percent franchise fee, on Monday night, city councilors unanimously dropped the controversial plan.
   Mayor Shawna Clanton said that she thought the Culver City Council's Sept. 22 workshop on the proposed franchise fee, attended by Ed Pugh, general manager of DVWD, had been productive.
   "I was really disappointed that another letter went out," she said, referring to two letters sent out by Pugh, which expressed DVWD's stance on the proposed ordinance.
   Pugh told the council that after the first workshop he attended in August, he had the impression that the council was going to pass the ordinance. After the second workshop, he was less certain about the council's intention, and decided he should err on the side of caution and send out the second letter.
   The letters informed Culver residents that the council was considering a 3 percent fee on DVWD customers within the city limits. The proposed ordinance would have specifically prohibited the water district from recouping the fee by charging city residents more than other users outside the city limits.
   "If your council forces this franchise fee on DVWD, our board is prepared to pass a resolution to charge rent to the city of Culver for fire hydrants as allowed by ORS 264.330," Pugh wrote.
   Over the years, he explained, DVWD donated 15 of the city's 61 fire hydrants, which currently cost about $3,000 each, installed.
   "Your domestic water rates are the lowest in Central Oregon because they are partially subsidized by hydroelectric revenue," Pugh noted in the letter. "However, that is not low enough for some on your council, because they are trying to impose franchise fees that are not passed on to the customer."
   Clanton said that she felt like she was being blackmailed by the water district. "Now our citizens are upset," she said. "They think we've done something behind their backs."
   During the citizen comment period, Culver resident Mary Frank presented the council with the signatures of 391 Culver residents who were opposed to the franchise fee.
   Councilor Laura Dudley said she had attended eight meetings of the DVWD Board of Directors to try to gauge their feelings on the proposal. "I never heard anything," she said. "It never came up."
   Following the unanimous vote to dismiss the franchise fee proposal, Councilor Nancy Diaz asked how the council and DVWD could rebuild trust.
   Pugh suggested more communication. "Next time anything comes up, call me," he said.
   Dudley asked Pugh to write a letter in the city's newsletter assuring citizens that there would be no franchise fee or rental of hydrants.
   Pugh was noncommittal. "For me, it boils down to no franchise fee, no fire hydrant ordinance," he said.
   "I think it's philosophically wrong for government agencies to charge each other franchise fees," said Pugh, who expects a bill to be introduced in the next session of the Oregon Legislature. "It's almost inevitable that it will get outlawed in the next session or two."