Fire, water coalition works for improved efficiency

Three special districts are seeking to protect their customers whenever the City of Hood River’s annexes “urban fringe” areas.

“Instead of butting heads together, let’s try to figure out what’s most advantageous to all of us — including the city,” said Terry Benton, board member from Ice Fountain Water District.

Ice Fountain has joined with Farmers Irrigation and West Side Fire districts to form the Hood River Special Districts Coalition (HRSDC). Each of the involved agencies is represented by two board members and a staffer at the monthly meetings.

Once complex annexation issues have been fully addressed, the HRSDC wants to focus on streamlining local governmental processes. Officials don’t believe that an applicant for a building permit should be required to visit up to eight different offices to obtain all of the signatures necessary for approval.

“It’s frustrating, inefficient, and wasteful,” said West Side Fire Marshall Jim Trammell, who also serves as the Coalition’s director.

The HRSDC united following their individual inability to resolve differences with the city over proposed annexation in 2002. Trammell said the municipality was violating state law by pursuing that action without compensatory agreements in place regarding the incorporation of Urban Growth Areas. The city’s annexation of 45 acres along Interstate 84 was later upheld by the Land Use Board of Appeals after West Side filed a legal challenge. However, the city was required to make some procedural adjustments to the methodology it used for that process.

“It is not the intention of the Coalition to oppose annexation, we recognize the city’s need and right to annex. But we also understand that our districts, collectively, have a fiduciary responsibility to our constituents,” said Trammell.

West Side is funded by property tax revenue and has 58 volunteers who provide protection services to 2,500-3,000 taxable lots over 25 square miles. The infrastructure at Ice Fountain is valued at $9.8 million and provides domestic water to 1,760 users. Farmers Irrigation pipes untreated ground water to 1,600 residences and businesses for use outdoors.

The Coalition is dedicated to working out numerous issues related to annexation. Areas of discussion include how services can be retained when revenue is lost, tabulating the cost that should be assigned to water infrastructure turned over to the city, and setting a rate schedule for the continuation of service to annexed land.

“It is the purpose of our group to identify solutions to annexation issues so that the districts and the city all win,” Trammell said.

Meanwhile, the Coalition remains opposed to any annexation until fair and equitable intergovernmental agreements have been worked out between all parties. While each individual district is negotiating directly with the city, each of the final intergovernmental agreements must be approved by the Coalition.

Lynn Guenther, city manager, said the negotiation process with the districts is complex because there are different issues to address with each entity.

“There can’t be a one size fits all agreement here but we hope to have negotiations with all three districts completed in the near future,” Guenther said.

The Coalition was established in accordance with Oregon law regarding the transfer of annexed properties. Lesley Apple-Haskell, from the Hood River firm of Wyers and Haskell, has been hired to act as the legal liaison between the coalition and the city. The County of Hood River has also offered mediation services if needed.

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