Councilors seek to ease burden

Property owners had both heated and measured words for the City Council on Monday, Oct. 28.

Years ago the city of Estacada received a sizable federal loan for water improvements, including a major upgrade to the water treatment plant.

A 2009 audit revealed that the city was not in compliance with several loan requirements.

In an effort to come into compliance with the loan, the city is requiring seven property owners whose property abuts the city's water system to connect to that system.

Property owners stand to be financially responsible for thousands of dollars in system development charges (SDC) in addition to a monthly water bill.

The property owners have the option of financing the SDC charges over 10 years at a 6 percent interest rate, but that would incur nearly $1,200 in interest charges.

At an earlier meeting, the council decided to absorb the cost of installing a water meter for the properties.

“I'm here once again to renew my objection to being forced onto city water,” said Patty Allen, one of the affected property owners, during the meeting on Oct. 28.

Brian Prokop said he appreciated the council for looking into ways to reduce the cost for the property owners.

“It's a significant amount of money,” he said.

Prokop inquired about the quality of city water.

Mayor Brent Dodrill assured Prokop that city water “meets all standards.”

“But is it well water? No,” he conceded.

“First I got to point out, you're all talking about how good your water is but everyone's drinking bottled water,” Milo Prokop said gesturing to the mayor and council. All present aside from Councilor Rob Gaskill had bottled water.

Dodrill explained that coming into compliance with the federal loan required the installation of water meters and SDC charges, but the property owners will not technically have to use city water.

Regardless, they will still have to pay an $18 monthly water bill to be part of the city system, in adition to the SDC charges.

City Recorder Denise Carey explained in a later interview that should the property owners use city water, they'd be charged an additional $3.36 per thousand gallons of water used.

Several of the affected property owners present at the council meeting asked why the loan requirements had originally affected more people.

Dodrill explained that the council recognized that the new requirements were a significant financial burden, and that the council had tried to find a way for them to affect the least amount of people possible.

“We're trying to figure out how we can be in compliance with our federal loan and make most of our citizens fairly happy with us,” Dodrill said.

Ron Lowery told the council that he'd purchased his property in 2008.

At the time, the property was in the process of being annexed into the city.

Lowery said that neither the city nor the county warned him about this potential requirement while he was purchasing the property.

“If you did not lead them to be aware of this, can you truly force them today?” Lowery asked the council.

City Manager Bill Elliott responded that it would have been impossible to warn people who were not already property owners.

Dodrill added that “people have to want to be annexed into the city.”

“It's hard enough to put food on the table,” Lowery told the council.

He offered several suggestions for lowering the financial burden on the property owners.

He asked the council to wave SDC interest charges and to give property owners a couple of years warning before installing the water meter so as to give the property owners time to prepare to assume the financial burden.

“We can't waive SDC fees, but we could look into waiving interest,” Dodrill said.

City staff was directed to look into whether SDC interest could be waived.

Lowery added that he felt everyone within city limits should be required to connect to city water.

“I just don't see how it's fair that only some should have to pay for it but not all,” Lowery said.

“If it's gonna be us seven, I say everybody goes,” Milo Prokop had said earlier.

Gaskill asked why these requirements hadn't been put in place at the time of the loan.

Elliott responded that different people had been governing the city.

“I can't answer your question. It should have been installed at that particular juncture,” Elliott said.

He added that the city would potentially “have to pay back a million and a half bucks” if it does not come into compliance with its loan requirements.

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