Battle brewing between Lincoln City and Roads End over old problem: who pays for what?

Published: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 10:02 PM
Lori Tobias, The Oregonian

Five years ago, when Jerry and Barbara Woods bought their house in the Roads End neighborhood just north of Lincoln City, they found a letter in their mailbox from City Hall, and it wasn’t a welcome to the neighborhood.

Rather, the letter gave the Woodses a choice: agree to let the city annex Roads End or do without water and sewer service.

They signed. But they wouldn’t have, said Jerry Woods, “if there hadn’t been a gun to our heads.”

Roger Middleton got the same letter when he tried to change the name on his account to include his wife. He ignored the letter and left the name unchanged.

But in coming months, property owners in Roads End won’t have that option. The City Council in Lincoln City recently adopted an ordinance allowing the council to designate by resolution areas to be annexed. Next comes the resolution and after that the letters, saying in short, agree to annexation or no water and sewer for you.

Roads End residents say it’s blackmail, coercion, bullying.

Lincoln City says it’s only fair.

What’s certain is that it’s the latest example of a small town trying to broaden its tax base to cover city services while residents outside city limits fight to maintain their independence.

It’s a situation that is not at all uncommon, said Michael McCauley, executive director of the League of Oregon Cities.

“In looking at equity, when you have a city and it is building infrastructure, it is tied into street reconstruction and right-of-way acquisition, and by not being part of the city and participating with property taxes … there is a certain amount of free ride on the urban services next to you.”

In a memo to city councilors, Lincoln City City Manager David Hawker wrote that Roads End is the largest developed area within the urban growth boundary outside the city, accessible only through city-maintained roads, and that it contributes to one of the most difficult traffic problem areas.

“The area has a large number of vacation rental homes which benefit greatly from the city’s promotions, events and attractions, yet pays none of the cost of this, or the impacts the visitors place on city infrastructure and services,” Hawker wrote.

He also noted that the city recently spent “a few hundred thousand dollars for a water system improvement that served a limited number of properties in Roads End.”

The annexation issue is hardly a new one, with talk of annexing the community recorded at least as far back as 1973. In 1978, according to the Roads End Improvement Association, an opinion poll on the issue drew 192 no votes over 32 yes. That same year, the community secured a grant from the federal government to build a water and sewer facility and turned it over to Lincoln City to operate. But that seems to be as much as the largely oceanfront enclave, where many people are retirees or have second homes, wants to do with the city.

In 2004, the city adopted the ordinance requiring property owners outside the city who request a name change on their utility account to sign the consent to annex if they want water service. Roads End residents spent about $100,000 fighting it in court and lost.

According to Hawker, so far the ordinance has brought in 258 consents out of about 715 developed properties.

Those who oppose the annexation fear the city will change their zoning to favor development and they worry about the impact on their taxes, which they say will not be proportionate to the services received.

“I feel Lincoln City spends their money futilely and furiously without any real future,” said Maud Krom, who describes herself as one of the last remaining property owners of the original Roads End gang. “I don’t want oceanfront hotels like they have in Newport or Lincoln City. Our taxes will go up by probably 50 percent. We have a lot of older people who don’t know how they are going to pay this. They keep saying, ‘You use our parks and open spaces.’ We all came here for one thing, that beautiful piece of water out there, the public beaches. That has nothing to do with Lincoln City.”

The city hasn’t said what the exact fiscal impact would be to the city or for Roads End property owners, but Hawker said he expects the average net increase will be about $690 annually. That factors in the decrease they will see in water and sewer bills, which are currently about double those of Lincoln City property owners. A home assessed at $280,000 currently pays about $2,000 in property taxes, according to Nathan Long, president of the Roads End Improvement Association.

But Hawker’s figure applies only to the more modest homes without oceanfront settings or views, said Roger Middleton, who has been in Roads End since 1992.

“The degree of unfairness will depend on how close you are to the ocean and what your property values are,” said Middleton. “My own property tax increase will be closer to $1,000 or $1,200 a year.”

For some, it’s not annexation that has them riled, but the city’s tactics.

“It’s blackmail to me,” said Long. “Where’s the democracy? We went before City Council. They didn’t even discuss it. They just went right to a vote. I understand we are going to be annexed eventually. That’s due process. It’s the way they are doing it. They know if it went to a vote in Roads End, they’d lose.”

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