City Councilors discuss raising SDC fees for new construction

By Kelly Kenoyer

Of The New Era

City Council members last week discussed increasing the city’s System Development Charges over the next several years, which would bring the charges to a level similar to other comparable cities.

Councilors Diane Gerson, Greg Mahler, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Dave Trask, and Cortney Nash were in attendance at the Tuesday, August 25 meeting, with Councilor James Goble calling in remotely to attend.

Finance Director Brandon Neish led a discussion about proposed increases to SDCs, which are the fees charged on new construction meant to pay for the infrastructure needed to service the new building. Currently, SDCs in Sweet Home total $1,839, compared to average of $18,800 in similar cities across the Willamette Valley.

Neish proposed bringing the Sweet Home SDCs up to $17,953 for a single-family dwelling.

“Ours are low because when we initially set them, we never reviewed them and they didn’t have an automatic escalator,” Neish said.

“The city thought that having low SDCs would attract growth. But we’re at a point where we don’t have enough funds for basic services.”

Higher fees in the past could have helped fund the new wastewater treatment plant, Neish said, and “we’ve missed out on being able to throw additional money to the parks.”

The higher SDCs will apply to new housing developments, though there may be exemptions for affordable housing.

“The next step is a rather extensive public engagement period,” Neish said.

The discussion then went to council.

Mahler said, “I don’t mind us getting into the middle of the pack, but I want to do it gradually.” City Manager Ray Towry responded that the process would be gradual, over a “three- to five-year period.”

“We want to account for five years from now, the values will all change,” he added, to explain why Sweet Home’s final figure of $17,953 is slightly higher than the average of $17,139 among cities of the same population and budget size in Oregon.

Trask asked, “Do you think jumping to $17,000 is a good idea?”

Coleman agreed. “That seems really drastic for right now,” she said.

Gerson suggested looking at different figures that are lower than the average of other cities.

“If we picked a figure like $10,000, could we see how that would impact each of those different areas?” she asked, referring to the various categories of funding SDCs fall into: water, wastewater, stormwater, parks and transportation.”

Neish then offered to map out those costs for a subsequent informational meeting, and asked council to determine what options they want to look at.

“I would recommend that we have some kind of escalator,” Neish said, so the SDCs go up in steps over the next several years, then continue to rise by a certain percentage thereafter.

“We’ll stay in that bottom range, because we’ll increase as they increase,” he said.

Towry suggested stepping up by quarters for the next four years. “We can start there as a discussion point, which would assume a four-year build-out,” he said.

Goble agreed with a stepped-out plan.

“If we string this out too long, we could look like we’re changing it based on situations happening in our town at the time,” he said.

Towry noted that the state has specific requirements related to this process, and it will require a 60 day review period for the public.

Though there was some agreement on having another informational meeting, Trask wanted to make sure it was sooner rather than later.

“I just want to make sure we don’t drag this out. If it’s 60 days from our next council meeting, I’d like to see that happen. We should get it done,” he said. The informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 3 at 5:30 p.m.

In other action, the council:

— Held a second reading for an ordinance for a zoning change for a plot on 23rd and Ironwood, with all councilors voting in favor except Cortney Nash, who voted no.

— Held a third and final reading for an ordinance annexing a plot of land at 789 Alder, with all councilors voting in favor except Cortney Nash, who voted no.

— Approved a new contract with a city engineer for special projects. Engineer Technician Trish Rice said the city went through a process to score the five companies that applied for the contract. “West Yost Associates scored the highest. They put together a very strong proposal that we felt would serve our community very well,” she said.

The full council voted in favor of the contract approval, though Goble was unable to actually vote due to technical issues.

— Heard from Mahler that the council had received a letter of appreciation for the flowers downtown. “Downtown is turning out pretty nice,” he said.

— Heard a report from Gourley that the Community Health Committee is looking to do outreach related to “emotional wellbeing.”

— Trask suggested a memorial event for Sept. 11 on the football field, including unfurling a large American flag on the 50-yard line. “Everyone is invited,” he said.