City, school district looking into options for athletic field, park irrigation

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home School District and City of Sweet Home are exploring options to work together on irrigating the district’s fields and Sankey Park.

City Manager Ray Towry and Finance Director Bandon Neish appeared before the School Board to explain the process behind water rate increases that drove up the school district’s irrigation bill by some $17,000 per year.

While the district declined to enter into an agreement with the city, Supt. Tom Yahraes told the city manager in a letter “we are pleased to know your team’s willingness to consider exploring possible water usage from Ames Creek. We would like to learn more about the possibility and strike and potentially strike a simple partnership to irrigate our fields and Sankey Park. We are also open to other irrigation solutions.”

The city and district are talking about options right now, like pulling water from Ames Creek, Towry said. The city could share that cost with the district and water Sankey Park.

The city doesn’t charge itself for water, Towry said, but it’s an expense borne by the ratepayers.

Yahraes and Business Manager Kevin Strong approached the city earlier this year with a request to waive the rate increase, noting the benefits the community receives from its facilities and the district’s plans to expand its outdoor facilities, supplementing the city’s parks.

The City Council approved a proposal to cut rates to last year’s level for six months in exchange for equivalent improvements. The proposal would have had the district work with the Park and Tree Committee on an improvement plan subject to council approval.

“The terms, unfortunately, fall outside the scope of our district’s goals and current commitments to our various projects,” Yahraes said in a letter to the city manager. “We respectfully cannot make a commitment to a possible unknown ‘value’ ‘that the city would need to find ‘quantifiable’ beyond our commitment to develop and irrigate a soccer-football field below the junior high as well as our continued commitments to all our fields and open spaces for our K-12 programs, which we open to the community.”

“We maintain that this is the value,” Yahraes told the board Monday evening.

Upon learning more regarding the Park and Tree Committee and City Council process and oversight in attempting to find common ground, Yahraes said, “this too is outside the time and resource commitments of district personnel. We sincerely thank the city for the efforts in attempting to strike a deal.”

Neish explained to the board how the council decided which expenses should be included in the fixed base charge and the variable commodity charge for water. Staff gave the council options that ranged from a higher base charge and low commodity rate to a lower base charge and higher commodity rate. The council selected the latter.

“While it was certainly not favorable for bulk users, the seniors on fixed income or the single mom who doesn’t use a lot of water saw a rate decrease,” Towry said. That’s who appears in front of the council when it’s talking about rates. “We didn’t have any bulk users come in and speak the rate.”

“It certainly provided relief to those who use less water and are on a fixed income,” Towry said.

Board member Jim Gourley said the district needs more of a partnership with the city to help with the pool and economic development activities, like the Oregon Jamboree. He suggested that the city provide a stipend to help cover the expense.

Towry said the city does help with pool expenses at this point, about $600 to $800.

Board member Jason Van Eck said the increase takes money from classrooms.

Right now, the district is paying last year’s rate, Towry said, and the council was scheduled to look at options, including a return to the older rate structure, at its meeting Tuesday evening.

Towry invited board members to attend the council meeting and provide comments or to send letters to the council.

Towry added that the city has no standing on drilling wells. Towry asked the city’s Administration and Finance Committee whether staff should look into a ban on drilling wells after a man living in a contaminated area that has a mandatory hookup to city water asked to be let out of the requirement.

The committee told him to gather information.

Based on feedback from the committee, Towry told the School Board, he would not expect the council to approve a ban on irrigation wells.

Whatever the case with the water rates, Board Chairman Jason Redick said later in the meeting, praising the district and city’s efforts to find an alternative for irrigation, “It doesn’t make sense to pour treated water on the fields. Drilling is the way to go.”

Present at the meeting were board members Toni Petersen, Jim Gourley, Chanz Keeney, Mike Reynolds, Redick, Angela Clegg, Debra Brown and Jenny Daniels.