City Council approves new infrastructure fees despite backlash by local builders.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Troutdale City Council discusses system development charges during a four-hour meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at the Troutdale Police Community Center, 234 S.W. Kendall Avenue.After a divided vote, Troutdale City Hall will raise the government fees charged to developers who want to construct new buildings.

The fees for water, sewer, stormwater and transportation usage — formally known as system development charges — will skyrocket as much as 400 percent after an 18-month-long phase in period.

Mayor Casey Ryan, Council President Dave Ripma plus Councilors Randy Lauer and Larry Morgan voted in favor of the fee hike that will begin on July 1 of this year. Councilors Rich Allen, Glenn White and Zach Hudson voted no.

"SDCs are a normal part of business — everyone sitting here knows they are," advocated Councilor Lauer during the city meeting Tuesday, Jan. 23. "Unfortunately, it's not normal in Troutdale. It's abnormal because we are abnormally low."

System development charges can only be spent on new infrastructure projects, like the city streets and sewer lines that connect a new subdivision to the pre-existing grid. The charges are based on usage, meaning that builders pay far more for a sprawling apartment complex than a single-family home.

SDC proponents say it's unfair for existing ratepayers to subsidize the cost of new strain on the system. But during a four-hour meeting, a number of leading citizens asked the City Council to pump the brakes before they scare off all new development.

"Not all developers are wealthy people," said Rip Caswell, a well-known sculptor who owns several businesses. "I'm fearful that… we're going to end up with chains and big-box stores coming in, buying up what's left and changing the whole look and feel of our town."

Mike Greenslade, a contractor who helped build 10 townhomes in the "Discovery Block" in downtown Troutdale, said the new fees could hinder the development of a brewpub during the second phase of construction for the site on the Historic Columbia River Highway.

"Had we been looking at the proposed system development charges today, that would still be a blank lot," the Troutdale resident warned.

"You're throwing a number out here that is huge, it's devastating," added local developer Carey Sheldon, suggesting that projects already in the pipeline should be allowed to pay the current rates.

Councilors ultimately ignored that idea, though the passed resolutions delay the first increase from March 1 to July 1 of this year. After the first bump, the SDCs will then rise by one-third again every six months until topping out on July 1, 2019.

City Manager Ray Young, who has pushed hard for the increase, says the city has expressed interest in an industrial project code named "Project Blake" that would need a million gallons of water a day and discharge at least 500,000 gallons daily in the Troutdale Reynolds Industrial Park.

"If they select Troutdale, we're going to be shaking in our boots, because we do not have the current infrastructure," Young said of the project, which would employ 400.

It's true that the city's coffers are hardly overflowing with SDC funds. Troutdale has identified $4.3 million in needed capital improvements for the water system, but has just $63,000 set aside in the bank for that purpose.

When fully increased, Troutdale's SDCs will still be in the bottom half for the Portland metro area, Young says.

Here are the hard numbers for the new system development charges:

• Water charges will rise from $1,345 to $7,256 per hydraulic equivalent, a 439 percent increase.

• Sewer charges will rise from $4,495 to $9,420 per equivalent residential unit, a 109 percent increase.

• Stormwater charges will rise from $920 to $1,351 per equivalent residential unit, a 47 percent increase.

• Transportation charges will rise from $723 to $995 per p.m. peak hour at trip's end, a 38 percent increase.

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