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Property owners 'off the hook' for water


Apparently, it was all a big mix-up.

During the City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 25, City Manager Bill Elliott had good news for property owners who had objected to being forced onto the city water system.

Eleven years ago, the city of Estacada received a $1.3 million federal loan and a $1.415 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve and expand its water system.

In a document submitted to the City Council, Elliott explained that the grant was contingent upon the city’s compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires all buildings to be connected to the city’s water system.

Though the city has required new buildings to connect to the system since 2002, a 2009 audit revealed that the city was not in compliance with loan requirements — specifically, “the mandatory hookup policy.”

“Somewhere in the process of replying to and complying with the USDA memo, city staff concluded that USDA was concerned that we had not enforced the mandatory hookup within the 100 feet as required in the ordinance,” Elliott wrote.

City staff drafted an ordinance that would require property adjacent to any city water line to be connected.

Recent versions of the ordinance would have affected seven property owners.

They stood to be financially responsible for thousands of dollars in system development charges in addition to an unwanted monthly water bill.

Several of those property owners attended recent council meetings to voice their disapproval of the requirement.

“You’re not going to get me on city water,” Patty Allen, an affected property owner, told the council in September.

“Believe me, we don’t need it, we don’t want it,” said Milo Prokop, another affected property owner.

Elliott said that after listening to the comments at recent council meetings, he had gone back through old correspondence to see if there was anything the city could do to ease the property owners’ burden.

“I should have done it sooner,” Elliott said in a later interview. “I wish I had now.”

Elliott said he had assumed the auditors’ concern about the “mandatory hookup policy” had been financial. But in fact it had been meant to address minority discrimination and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations — two issues that the city’s water system does not have, according to Elliott.

Elliott found a memo from a USDA representative from November 2010 that said, “The ordinance could grandfather existing customers on wells and disallow future permits and requiring hookup when lines are within a certain distance from the property.”

It seems that the property owners are now “off the hook” for hooking up to city water for the time being.

“I’m just happy you took us out of that corner,” Councilor Sean Drinkwine said.

Looking forward, Elliott contacted several cities with similar requirements.

He told the council most of the cities exempt only existing property owners as long as their wells are functional.

If or when those propertie are ever sold, the new owners will be required to connect to the municipal water system.

The council discussed whether Estacada should have a similar ordinance.

“I think at the beginning of this discussion was that we don’t want to penalize the existing homeowners, and then (part) B of that is we want to bring these islands onto our system,” Councilor Michele Conditt said.

Mayor Brent Dodrill said requiring the properties to connect if sold could place the burden back on the property owners, as it could make it harder to sell the property.

A new ordinance stipulating under what circumstances the properties would be required to connect will be drafted and discussed at a future meeting.