City’s water demands decried as ‘hostage’ tactics
The News Guard
After several false starts, Lincoln City is set to proceed with the final phase of its effort to gather enough annexation consents from Roads End property owners to bring the area inside the city limits.
At its Oct. 24 meeting, Lincoln City Council directed staff to send letters to all Roads End property owners who have not yet consented to annexation, giving them 60 days to do so or face having their water shut off.
Council, under the leadership of then-mayor Lori Hollingsworth, first approved the demand-letter policy in September 2010.
However, more than a year later, the City has yet to mail a single demand letter.
The move was formally postponed twice in the first quarter of 2011 due to strong response to the City’s offer to pay the roughly $100 County recording fee for anyone who submitted a consent before receiving the demand letter.
City Manager David Hawker said that response took the City to the cusp of the triple majority required to proceed with annexation.
After the flood of consents began to dry up in the spring, the policy faced another delay as the City kept a close eye on the Oregon Legislature, where members considered three bills that would have outlawed the practice of requiring consents in exchange for continued service.
None of those bills progressed past the committee stage.
Several members of the Roads End Water District (REWD) appeared at the Oct. 24 meeting to urge councilors to vote against the demand-letter resolution.
REWD Vice President Brayden Criswell said the City “profits handily” from the sale of water to customers in Roads End, who, like all out-of-city customers, pay 212 percent of the regular rate.
“Simply put,” he said, “These resolutions are nothing short of hostage annexation.”
REWD board member Chris Jalowy said the City’s annexation strategy is “bordering on extortion.”
He said a previous experience with annexation by the city of Hillsboro was much more positive, with City officials engaging with property owners to build a vision of what the annexed community would look like.
Chuck Jacobsen, also an REWD board member, said the City’s forced-consent policy is “cold-hearted,” “threatening,” “offensive,” and “bullying.”
He said increased property taxes would cause great hardship for those Roads End residents on fixed incomes, a group he said includes Evy Nickel, who he described as a widow who cares for her severely disabled daughter.
“When you shut off Mrs. Nickel’s water and force her out of her home, where is she going to go?” he asked.
Local contractor Jim Hoover joined the condemnation of the City’s approach, saying it was akin to bullying.
Hoover said that if the City shut off water to Roads End residents, it would be obliged to repay the $590,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture loan that helped build out the area’s water system.
However, in a 2008 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin dismissed this argument, after the USDA waived its right to pursue the alleged breach of contract.
Mayor Dick Anderson said the resolution authorizing the demand-letter policy, which went on to pass unanimously, was a “reaffirmation” by the new council of the City’s annexation aims.
Anderson said that as mayoral candidate and as mayor he has met with Roads End groups to urge them to contact the City to tackle annexation issues such as zoning concerns and whether the property taxes could be phased in.
“They have chosen not to,” he said.
Anderson said there are two vacant seats on the planning commission that are open to Roads End residents and that would allow them to play a role in City planning.
Hawker reiterated the City’s argument that, as a densely developed area within the City’s urban growth boundary, Roads End has a “substantial impact” on City services and facilities.
Hawker said the City will likely send out the first batch of 50 to 75 demand letters in the next couple of weeks, starting at the south of Roads End and heading north.
Any property owner that fails to return signed consent within 60 days of receiving the letter will then be handled by the City’s existing system for dealing with delinquent water customers, giving them roughly an extra month before the faucets run dry.
Hawker said delinquent customers receive a letter notifying them that their supply is slated for shut off and offering them the opportunity to appeal.
He said any appeal would have to be based on a point of fact and not a debate about validity of the law.
After the notification letter, customers receive a door hanger warning them of impending shut-off, followed by a final letter.
“Then we shut off,” Hawker said.
Under state law, if the City can obtain consents from a triple majority – meaning a majority of property owners representing a majority of both total property value and total land area – it can annex the area by a simple vote of the city council.
The policy of requiring a consent to annexation in return for continued water service is an escalation from the City’s current policy of requiring a consent only when a property changes hands.
That policy has been in place since 2004, the year after the expiration of the City’s 25-year contract to provide water to the Roads End area.
That approach was deemed “valid and lawful” by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin in a 2008 ruling.
Speaking at Council’s Oct. 24 meeting, REWD President Maud Krom pointed out that Coffin’s ruling did not address whether the City could demand consents from property owners in return for continuing to receive water.
She said Coffin’s judgment also does not validate the City’s practice of requiring that people signing consents also sign a waiver of the one-year time limit applied to such consents by state law.
“In Lincoln City becoming a dictatorship?” she asked. “Are we no longer part of the United States? Are we not part of Oregon and subject to its laws?”
Councilor Chester Noreikis said the City’s action would be “standard operating procedure” in the business community.
“Why there is an expectation in Roads End that the City would continue to honor an expired contract, I do not know,” he said.