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Water measure pulled from March ballot


City successful in getting 18 percent rate increase off ballot

Though the vote approving a special measure was easy, actually removing a slated March ballot measure proved to be more difficult for the city of West Linn.

In a surprise vote, the city council unanimously voted during its Jan. 14 meeting to take the proposed March 12 water measure off the ballot.by: CITY OF WEST LINN - The West Linn City Council put a special election measure asking residents for an 18 percent water rate hike on hold for the time being. The council will discuss the future of the ballot measure during its goal-setting retreat in February.

The change of heart was a sudden reversal of the council’s December decision to ask residents for a one-time water rate hike of 18 percent, over and above the city’s annual capped 5 percent increase.

The council wished to remove the ballot measure to avoid confusion with the contentious permit hearings it is conducting this month regarding the Lake Oswego-Tigard (LOT) Water Partnership proposed water treatment plant expansion and pipeline.

“It’s confusing to voters because we’re talking about West Linn water, Lake Oswego water and Tigard water,” Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said.

Also, if approved, the LOT permits could have an impact on the city’s water system. This is because, as part of its conditions of approval, the city council may tack on a one-time $5 million payment from LOT for use of the pipeline right of way. That money could be used toward city water infrastructure or the replacement of the Bolton Reservoir.

The city wanted the March ballot measure to raise funds to start replacing and repairing the city’s water pipeline system. Under the city charter, the city cannot raise rates by more than 5 percent annually without voter approval. The one-time rate hike would be in addition to the annual 5 percent increase.

Since the March vote is looming, the city rushed to try to get it off the ballot. Since removing ballot measures with the county is rare, the process was not readily available to the city.

“There’s not a whole lot of precedence,” Wyatt said.

Following legal steps, the city council convened on the afternoon of Jan. 17 to vote on rescinding the resolution that placed the water rate measure on the March ballot. All councilors were present except Jody Carson and voted in favor of the repeal.

According to Peter Watts, a city attorney, though the county didn’t oppose the city’s wish to remove the measure, the deadline had already passed to do so.

“The Secretary of State’s office has confirmed that because that deadline passed, the county cannot cancel the vote,” Watts wrote in a Jan. 16 email to city staff. “However, the Secretary of State’s office indicated that the county might be willing to cancel the vote under a court order.”

In essence the city had to file suit against the county although there is no real wrongdoing. It was expected the county would not object.

If the city failed to get the measure removed from the ballot, it would have been responsible for $5,000 to the county for the printing and distribution of the ballots. The city of Wilsonville is the only other Clackamas County entity with an issue on the March ballot.

“The county, we are told, will join the city in arguing that a vote on a rate increase that the city no longer wants ... is wasteful and will result in voter confusion,” Watts wrote.

In cooperation with the city, the county agreed to delay the printing of the ballots so the issue could be addressed. The city’s attorney was slated to go before a county judge Tuesday.

“It is possible that a judge may agree to an order canceling the vote without much analysis,” Watts speculated. “And it is possible that a judge may decline to sign such an order even if he or she is sympathetic about it. All we can do is try.”

According to Wyatt, on Tuesday a county judge granted a temporary restraining order that removes the West Linn’s water rate ballot measure from the ballot. It is believed the city will avoid all costs associated with the special election.

“Mr. (Tim) Ramis (city attorney) and Mr. Watts noted that the decision to grant this order is the result of a successful, collaborative effort between West Linn and the county clerk’s office,” Wyatt said.

Though the process won’t be finalized for several weeks, Wyatt said, the point will be moot, as the measure will not appear on the ballots.

“Today’s victory was the most important logistically to ensure that the measure isn’t on the ballot, even if it’s not finalized until a couple weeks from now,” she said.