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City of St. Helens weighs development fee decreases

Only one testifies at public hearing


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson, far left, and city resident Howard Blumenthal, far right, debate the proposed lowering of system development charges at a Wednesday, Oct. 16, meeting. Blumenthal was the only member of the public to speak during the time allocated for a public hearing on the proposed fee adjustments Wednesday evening.The St. Helens City Council held a brief public hearing Wednesday, Oct. 16, to take testimony from residents on proposed changes to system development charges.

The charges, often abbreviated as SDCs, are one-time development fees new construction contractors pay to the city for the added effect the new construction has on public systems — namely, water, sewer, parks, transportation and stormwater drainage.

The city commissioned an outside review of its water and transportation SDCs by the Portland-based consulting firm FCS Group, which recommended the city lower its base charges in a report earlier this year.

Under the proposal now being considered by St. Helens councilors, the SDC for water would decrease from $2,530 for a single-family dwelling to $2,511 — a small, 0.75 percent change.

But the base SDC for transportation would fall by about 38 percent, from $402 per “trip” to $249.

The city calculates transportation SDCs with a set of multipliers. For example, a single-family home is considered to have the equivalent of 9.57 trips, for a fee of $3,847.14 under the current rates. The modifications would drop that amount to $2,382.93.

“What they are proposing based on the updated transportation system plan that was done in 2011 is much more in line with what we’ve actually been charging over the past several years,” Sue Nelson, interim co-director of the St. Helens Public Works Department, told city councilors at Wednesday’s council worksession, prior to the public hearing. “And it’s a good rate.”

Nelson was referring to the discounts that have been in effect since 2010, when the city council voted to waive 50 percent of all SDCs for new construction. The council has extended the discount multiple times since, albeit cutting the discount for residential construction only to 35 percent earlier this year.

City Councilor Susan Conn said she has not seen evidence that the discounts have helped to jump-start construction in St. Helens.

“Before extending the discount again, I want to see proof that it’s had a [positive] effect,” Conn said during Wednesday’s work session. “I haven’t seen proof of that.”

The discounts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The only person to testify at the public hearing on the SDCs suggested that lowering fees for developers is unfair to city ratepayers.

St. Helens resident Howard Blumenthal said, “At some point, we always keep raising the rates for the general people. Why not for people building the homes?”

Blumenthal also said the discounts should not be extended in December.

The city council directed staff to draft a resolution to accept the proposed rates after the hearing concluded.