Annexed North Bend residents say sewer fees stink

The numbers are overwhelming. The city of North Bend has been working for five months on dividing $19.27 million worth of sewer project expenses among 403 properties, both commercial and residential, which are taxed at different rates, and assessed at even more widely varying rates.

The properties, absorbed in 2009 with the Tanner annexation, are “odd-shaped, different-zoned, in various states of development,” explained Public Works Director Ron Garrow, who oversaw the installation of sewer service throughout the annexed area.

Because of the challenges in dividing the costs fairly, Garrow said the city decided that “the best way to do it, to make it equitable to all, is to determine the amount of benefit… what’s the value of the property before sewer and after sewer?”

However, the current proposed assessment rolls show a total of $25.8 million in benefit amount to the properties, or about $6.5 million more than the project cost.

To a few property owners, the process doesn’t seem fair at all.

Kathy Riley immediately tears up at the thought of their assessment, which, thanks to timely appeals, has already been reduced twice, to almost $169,000. It’s still too much for she and her husband Sam (who says no one could print anything he has to say about the situation) to pay on the home and five acres they’ve lived in for 45 years.

“We’ve basically got Social Security, and that’s it,” she said, sitting in the living room that they’d kept closed off all winter to save on heating costs.

The Rileys raised nine children in their large, not lavish house, and they planned to live there until they couldn’t live on their own any more. They had no intention of developing the property into the 20 single-family homes it could potentially support according to the assessor, she said, and they have no intention of hooking up to the sewer system while their septic tanks continue to function.

Although the city is offering residents a 20-year financing option, as a lien against their properties, Riley says that will amount to a $20,000 annual payment that they also can’t afford. She and her husband have started looking at other homes, in anticipation of being forced to sell theirs.

“From our standpoint, it really isn’t fair,” Riley said. “We have no intention of developing it... if we have to give it up, it’s going to break our hearts.”

Riley and her neighbors are a vocal minority on the assessment issue. They were part of the 34 who initially appealed their assessments to the hearing examiner. Following his decision, they were among 23 who advanced their appeals to the North Bend City Council.

The council reviewed the information at a Feb. 21 executive session, and plans to discuss it further at next week’s regular council meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, at the Mount Si Senior Center.

One more appeal, to superior court remains to the affected property owners.

The Tanner property was annexed in 2010. At the request of several property owners, the ULID was formed to fund the installation of sewer lines into the new area.

Petitions for forming ULIDs are based on the amount of property, in area, represented by the property-owners requesting it. More than 50 percent of the property must be represented on the petition for it to proceed, and Garrow recalled that “It was a lot of commercial area that was wanting to form this.” Residential properties later joined the petition.

Because this petition came from the property owners, Garrow said, they were asked to bear the entire cost of the project.


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