Resort St. problems persist

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board March 05, 2014 08:28 am

We argued in 2012 that burying utility lines on Resort Street, though an attractive project, cost too many city dollars even when property owners along the street were going to contribute about $295,000 of what was then expected to be about a $1.1 million project.

Now some of those property owners contend they should pay less, or even nothing.

This would transform the Resort Street project from a mistake into a boondoggle that residents will be paying for in dollars, and possibly in extra potholes, for many years.

Every dollar trimmed from the property owners’ tab must be made up from city coffers. And we believe the city has already spent enough public dollars on this project.

The utilities were buried last summer as part of the larger project to rebuild Resort Street between Auburn Avenue and Campbell Street.

Resort Street looks great, in part because the power, phone and cable TV wires are out of sight (the rest of the project, including rebuilding the street and sidewalks, was paid for by state and federal grants).

Yet last Tuesday, when the City Council was supposed to approve an ordinance levying the $295,000 in tax assessments from the Resort Street property owners who benefited, it didn’t happen.

Three of the affected property owners — Randy Daugherty, Rustin Smith and Tabor Clarke — told councilors they believed the $295,000 was, as Smith put it, “an unfair burden.”

The property owners’ claim that they expected their share of the project would be less than $295,000 is not without foundation.

In September 2012, after the city had proposed forming a Local Improvement District (LID), the mechanism for collecting money from property owners to help pay to bury utilities, Clarke told councilors that negotiations with utilities to cut costs had reduced the LID charge from the city’s original estimate of $70 per foot of frontage to about $41.

That LID property owners were involved in these negotiations is telling: Why would those property owners have participated if there was no possibility that they would realize any cost savings from the negotiations?

In any case, the possibility of such savings likely influenced property owners’ votes on whether to proceed with the LID — owners of just 12.73 percent of the front footage objected to the district, far below the level necessary to stop the project.

City Manager Mike Kee said last week that “there was never any talk from city staff that it would be less than $70 (per foot of frontage).”

Nonetheless, it seems clear that communication between the city and the LID property owners on that salient point was rather murky.

And as it turned out the overall project cost of $686,000 was well below earlier estimates.

Considering that the city has already diverted almost $400,000 from its street fund to the utility burial project — money that should have been spent to deal with the city’s mounting backlog of street maintenance needs — we think those savings should benefit the city as a whole.

Any relief the City Council might offer Resort Street property owners now would only exacerbate the original mistake.