City working with Willow LID residents to reduce price tag

Benny Westcott

Most residents of the Willow Street neighborhood agree that improvements to some of their basic public works are necessary.

But how much are they willing to pay for it?

An open house was held at City Hall on Tuesday evening, April 20, to consider the details of a local improvement district (LID) in the Willow Street neighborhood.

The affected properties for the LID front on Yucca, Willow, 18th North of Tamarack, 19th, and 20th Streets. There are some properties that don’t front directly on those streets, but are accessed via those streets, that are also included in the neighborhood LID.

The ball started rolling on this project back in December of 2019, when the first few neighborhood residents signed a petition that would eventually fill up to include a majority of landowners in the Willow Street neighborhood, proposing an LID. They requested that the City of Sweet Home research costs for improved streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and water services.

In a Feb. 23 public hearing in response to the plan that the city initially put together, several neighborhood residents expressed resistance to the proposed cost of the LID that would be shouldered by each landowner.

So City Council members directed city staff to come back with an adjusted plan.

“We went back and looked at ways that we could rework those numbers and the project, and try to trim down some of those numbers to see if we can get to numbers that might be a little bit more palatable for land owners in this neighborhood,” said City Manager Ray Towry.

Every member of the Willow Street neighborhood that could be affected by the LID was notified of the April 20 open house via mail. Three homeowners in the affected neighborhood attended the meeting, counting both virtual and in-person attendance.

An LID is a set area that wants improvements, Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen said. He said that typically, upon first development, a developer would pay for these improvements and they would be put in.

The Willow Street neighborhood, however, came into existence outside of city control.

“It kind of developed a little bit more haphazardly,” Larsen said.

So when the neighborhood was brought into the city, it didn’t have any of the improvements that are typically in a development, Larsen said.

The neighborhood didn’t have sewer service at first, before a DEQ grant and partial LID funded sewer service for the neighborhood.

Still, the neighborhood is without water service. All of the properties either have a well on their property, or share another property’s well. There are also no sidewalks, and the streets are “rather poor,” according to Larsen.

“So the question is, how do you get those improvements built and put in? And how do you allocate those costs fairly?” said Larsen. “Because you can’t ask taxpayers as a whole throughout the city to pay for it, because that’s a whole bunch of people that don’t ever go there or don’t live there. There’s going to be people who are rather upset that their tax dollars are going to pay for this one neighborhood.”

He continued, “On the other hand, you have a bunch of properties in that area that may not be in a position to pay for the improvements.”

He concluded, “That makes it awkward, trying to find a way to pay for all of these things that’s fair and reasonable.”

When the city was putting together the proposed LID, a decision had to be made on how the cost of the LID would be divided up among Willow Street residents.

In order to arrive at figures for each property, Staff Engineer Joe Graybill put together an estimate of the costs of all the improvements. The cost burden for each property was calculated based on each property’s square footage. Then, each property’s cost burden was calculated based on its linear footage along the street. Finally, an average was taken of those two numbers to arrive at the proposed cost of the LID for each property in the Willow Street neighborhood.

City staff then excluded non-buildable land, for instance land that is in a riparian zone, from the formula.

Staff initially planned for sidewalks on both sides of every street in the neighborhood, but after closer inspection they determined that there are some areas where sidewalks don’t work as well, because of the narrowness of the public right of way.

Staff also found potential cost savings by inserting alley style streets where regular streets had previously been planned.

“We trimmed down as much as we felt that we could,” said Larsen.

The total price of the LID is now estimated around $1.7 million. Neighborhood residents would be able to pay their share over a 20 year period.

“We can’t do that much about the price of materials and the cost of labor and all that,” Larsen said. “It’s an unfortunate reality that things cost money and a lot of these things cost a lot of money.”

In the interest of fairness, the plan has property owners who have a sidewalk directly in front of their property paying more for sidewalks than property owners that do not have a sidewalk fronting their home.

The spreadsheet put together by city staff assumed that the city would put some level of funding toward the project, but “that is a very debatable issue,” Larsen said.

“It’s certainly not my place to tell the council what to do,” he said, adding “we can certainly make recommendations.”

“The reason why it is important to have the city put something into it, is because there are some people in town, by virtue of where they live, who get roads repaired and invested in because everybody uses them.”

He gave the example of residents of Long Street.

“People who live right on Long Street get the benefit of sidewalks, a bike lane, the street being in good repair, simply because they have property on Long Street and that’s an arterial road that lots of people use.”

“People who live in this neighborhood essentially live on dead-end streets, so nobody else is benefiting, but on the other hand their neighbors elsewhere in town are getting something,” Larsen said.

He said that “it seems more just to suggest that the city would contribute something.”

Josh Victor of Northern Investments, which owns 32 of the properties in the neighborhood, offered to forego any of the benefit of the city funding for his properties, allowing that benefit to go to other property owners in the neighborhood.

That would leave the city covering 20% of the cost for all of the properties in the Willow Street neighborhood that are not owned by Northern Investments in the proposed plan.

While Larsen said the addition of city funding to the formula brings the amount owed for each household to a more reasonable cost, he noted that “It’s still quite high.”

“For most folks, it’s a lot of money to think about spending, but we also have to keep in mind that this is something that’s going to be spent over a 20 year period.”

Victor pointed out that Willow Street neighborhood residents are currently paying roughly $90 a month for sewer services per unit, and said that “at most of the places that I’ve ever added water to, the sewer bill drops. So you end up saving between $45 or $50 a month in sewer costs.”

He added that “If you’re thinking about paying this extra fee, you are saving on sewer anyway, so you can put that towards it.”

Larsen agreed, saying that “typically if you have a water meter and water service you are going to be looking at a lower amount for your sewer portion,” but said that it is difficult to quantify exactly what the savings would be.

Another open house regarding the Willow Street improvement district will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 29, at City Hall, 3225 Main St.

City staff encourages neighborhood residents to attend the meeting to voice their opinion and ask any questions they may have.