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Council mulls storm drainage plan, priorities for Legislature

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon City Council held a July 27 work session to discuss an updated Storm Drainage Master Plan and vote on city priorities for the League of Oregon Cities to pursue in the state Legislature.
Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlach discussed the current SDMP, which was developed in the 1980s.
“In my opinion,” he said, “[it is] very clunky and hard to use. It was a little too cryptic and hard to find things.”
According to Craig Sheahan of Portland firm David Evans and Associates, the SDMP is intended as a guide for the city’s capital improvements and stormwater systems over a 20-year period.
The company identified existing and future stormwater system capacities, analyzed existing funding mechanisms and utility rates, reviewed current stormwater designs to make sure they align with current regulatory requirements, developed a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with a prioritized list of projects and provided recommendations to improve overall system maintenance performance.
According to Atalia Raskin, water resources project engineer for David Evans, the company first looked at how the master plan could support the city’s existing total maximum daily load while lining up with Department of Environmental Quality criteria to reduce pollutants in the Willamette River.
A hydrologic analysis examined the amount of overland water generated and collected within the stormwater sewer, while a hydraulic analysis defined how that water traveled through the city’s underground pipes and open ditches. Together, they revealed that about 15% of the system was working inadequately, according to Sheahan.
A CIP was developed from that information to identify projects to help meet the city’s existing and future stormwater needs, he said. Those projects include improving conveyance deficiencies, diverting stormwater from the canal, disconnecting stormwater and sanitary sewers from one other, changing the flow of water from drywells, future pipe capacities for city growth, and management of water quality and control.
Some 21 of 139 project ideas were prioritized, with estimated costs between $19,412 and $3,113,078 for each. All 21 have a total estimated cost of $10,098,233.
Steve Donovan, president of Portland’s Donovan Enterprises, then initiated a conversation about the city’s rate structure for stormwater maintenance.
“Your current rate structure is not predicated on any confirmed unit of demand,” he said. “Large, medium and small; that’s how you charge right now, but we don’t have a unit of demand.”
Cities surrounding Lebanon use a measured impervious surface as a basis of unit of demand, the service unit, he explained. They use that as a standard unit of surface, which is a single-family home, or about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet. The technology to measure a property’s impervious surface wasn’t available 15 years ago. However, it is possible today.
Donovan encouraged the council to consider moving to that measured basis of demand. It would have little to no impact on small residential and commercial property owners, he said, but large parcels with high density of development would switch to a measured service unit.
“We’d like you to consider doing that now while your rates are very low,” he said. “Your rates are very low relative to everyone else in the area. Rip the Band-Aid off and get to it so that we can level the playing field, because you just saw $10 million of hurt coming on you over the next five years.
“You’re going to have more operating expenses, and you’re a community of over 10,000; you’re going to have a higher regulatory hurdle to follow.
“Your costs are going up. It would be good to get on that horse now because in five years when your rates have tripled – or quadrupled, depending on how the world works – that bent is only going to get worse.”
Donovan read a comparison of recent rates for stormwater drainage. A single-family home in Lebanon pays less than $5, while those in Salem, Springfield and Eugene pay around $16. He said he was aware of other Oregon and California communities that pay as high as $30 to $40 for stormwater.
Responding to Councilor KJ Ullfers’ question about funding the $10 million project list, Whitlatch noted that, as with the city’s other master plans, it was necessary to balance the requirement to fulfill a need with “not running people out of their houses because the utility bills are so high that they can’t afford them.”
City Manager Nancy Brewer said that the city added a 3% bottom line on the customer’s water bill in lieu of a water-rate increase during this year’s rate review.
“We put a significant share of the rate – that 3% rate increase – into storm drainage, knowing that this project list was coming forward,” she said.
“We are trying to balance out what we’re doing and the needs that are being driven in a lot of cases by these master plan requirements, these regulatory requirements with what we can afford to do. And we will look for every grant opportunity we can possibly get.”
The city posted the proposed SDMP online at https://bit.ly/3BcX5M6 for public review and comment before it’s formally adopted.
Following that discussion, the council voted on five items for the League of Oregon Cities to consider for the 2023 legislative session. Each member city will submit up to five priority issues.
Staff had earlier selected six (local funding to address homelessness, address Measure 110 shortcomings, property tax reform, marijuana taxes, funding for recovery of abandoned recreational vehicles, infrastructure funding and resilience) from a recommended list of 29.
Ullfers asked about the city’s RV problem. Lebanon Police Chief Frank Stevenson replied that when officers came across one to be removed, the cost made it difficult. The last time the issue was examined, the cost to the city would have been about $5,000 because tow companies sought cost recoupment.
“As time is going on, we are starting to see a lot more of these camp trailers and RVs camped alongside of the road, which we’re trying to address to get them removed,” Stevenson said. “However, no one will tow it, and it’s going to cost the city and taxpayers.”
Brewer added that this touched on the storm drain issue because many of those using the trailers were dumping their sewage in the storm drains.
“That is, I think, a big issue driving this,” she said. “Not just the neighborhood impact, but also the infrastructure impact.”
Stevenson clarified that the city has yet to foot the bill for RV removal because staff has been able to “maneuver” ways to move them without cost. He wanted to address the issue, however, before it became bigger.
Ullfers also asked about the property tax reform item, and Brewer explained that she’s spent 20 years on it. Part of it, she said, was about trying to build more flexibility and equity in the system. She believed some of the issues include removing the 3% discount for early payment and an increase in the permanent rate.
“There’s a lot of looking at real market value and assessed value, and the differences from community to community, and how that calculation comes into play with adding new property that’s being developed,” she said.
Councilor Jeremy Salvage asked about the marijuana tax. Brewer said that Measure 110 diverted most of its revenue shared with local governments to a drug rehab process “that has not, thus far, been successful.” The desire was that either the state backfill lost revenue to local governments using general funds or for voters to increase the tax.
The “Measure 110 shortcomings” line item, however, surrounded the idea that those caught with legal amounts of drugs could avoid tickets by seeking rehab services. Most, however, were not seeking those services, and no collection mechanism exists for the ticket fines.
“There’s not a stick there that’s actually moving people into rehab (which was the goal of Measure 110),” Brewer said. “It’s less about money and more about the amounts of opioids, heroin, meth, the overdose deaths that are happening in communities across the state.”
Brewer’s recommendation was to remove the marijuana tax issue from the ballot because it would not make a big impact on the city. The council unanimously agreed with her recommendation and made a motion on the five chosen issues.

In other business:
♦ The council heard a presentation by the Trees and Trails Advisory Committee. Chair Rick Barnett shared the group’s progress since its 2018 formation, as well as his belief that its current decisions would be important to the city 40 years from now.
“To give you some perspective, 40 years ago I was still sneaking people in the trunk of my car into the movie theater,” he said. “Decisions that were made [in Lebanon] then, we’re seeing the benefit of those now. Lebanon has made a lot of good decisions for economic development and some of those areas. So, what we’re trying to do is help you make good decisions about parks, about trees and about trails.”
The committee asked the council to consider adding parks to its responsibilities. The group is also asking for the council to consider future recommendations, including the widening of a new sidewalk on Airport Road and an extension of the Gill’s Landing Trail;
♦ Stevenson reported that the “weekend pass for inmates” program has thus far been successful. He said he was also “starting to see the light” regarding the hiring process, having recently sworn-in one new officer and made four conditional offers to “local, homegrown” vets.