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West Linn City Council opposes OC proposal

House Bill 2800 would give control of district to cities rather than county

Eight months after the Tri-City Service District sued Oregon City over right-of-way franchise fees, the two bodies are poised for another fight — this time over a legislative bill that would allow a city to “assume duties and functions of a county service district” when the majority of the district’s residents are part of that city.

The Tri-City Service District — based in Oregon City but officially managed by the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners — is responsible for wastewater treatment in West Linn, Oregon City and Gladstone. It was formed back in 1980 by way of a public vote.

In a Jan. 22 letter to then-West Linn Mayor John Kovash and Gladstone Mayor Dominick Jacobellis, Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay expressed concerns about possible rate increases and said the proposed Local Utility Accountability Act (House Bill 2800) would “allow — but not require — our cities to jointly assume control over the Tri-City Service District.”

“TCSD is discussing a series of rate increases as high as 25 percent per year in each of the next several years,” Holladay wrote. “As significant as these increases would be, of greater concern is the distinct lack of clarity as to the factors driving these rate hikes and whether this is truly in the interest of TCSD ratepayers. Similarly, of even greater concern is the lack of true control of the TCSD for our cities.”

In a statement, Clackamas County expressed unanimous opposition to the bill.

“The Tri-City Service District was formed in 1980 by a vote of the public, who agreed to the County Commission serving as the governing body,” the statement read. “Any change to the governance structure of the Tri-City Service District should be decided upon by a vote of the public in each of the cities, rather than mandated by the State Legislature.”

Additionally, the county noted that proposed rate increases “are necessary to help pay for capital improvements to the Tri-City plant” and that “a change to the District’s governance will not change the fact that there is a need for capital improvements.”

County Commissioner Paul Savas appeared at the West Linn City Council work session Monday to discuss the matter.

“We’re confident that House Bill 2800 will die, that it will die in session,” Savas said. “A number of folks are lobbying against it, not just people from this tri-county region but also from around the state. There’s a concern that ORS.451 (related to county service facilities) may be undermined.”

In the end, the City Council was unanimous in its opposition to the bill, and resolved to take a formal stance on the matter during its next meeting on March 23. In the meantime, the council directed city staff to draft a letter outlining its opposition to the bill.

“The Tri-City Service District was formed by vote of the citizens, so I would not feel comfortable with House Bill 2800,” City Councilor Jenni Tan said. “Financially, there’s a lot of synergy to be gained from working within the region.”

“I’m not even sure how you undo a vote of the people with a house bill,” City Council President Thomas Frank said.

City Councilor Russ Axelrod, for his part, said that, “the old adage, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ applies here.”

“There is, from what I can see, a network that has worked out its issues pretty effectively in the past,” Axelrod said. “The more we can partner with cities on sewage treatment, I think we all benefit from that.”

Should the house bill die, it is unclear how Oregon City will proceed, Savas said. In the end, Savas said the best way forward would be for neighboring cities and the county to work together.

“Everyone is benefitting from this,” he said. “You could say we share the pain, but we also share the gain.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.


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