Curry County commissioners will vote March 6 whether to allow the city of Brookings to annex county-owned parcels surrounding the airport, located just northeast of Brookings.
The decision, however, was only reached after more than two hours of segues into discussions of management, intergovernmental agreements, zoning — even a threat by the county to back out of the deal altogether.
According to Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog, the county asked the city to take over management of the airport because it was losing money. The county, in all discussions, would retain ownership.
The city would like the property annexed for a variety of reasons, including the development of light-industry uses.
Other reasons are to use the property for staging area for disasters as the airport would likely be the only one intact along the coast after a major earthquake, supply water for future development in the area, and to increase water pressure in the city’s water system by building a tank and infrastructure.
Under that rationale, and with county backing, the city applied for and received a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build a 1-million gallon water tank and sewer and water lines to the airport. The city must provide $1 million toward the project under the terms of the grant.
But under city municipal code, any area served by water and sewer infrastructure must be within city limits, and county officials indicated they might prefer an intergovernmental agreement that allows them to keep the property within the county and allow the city to cross that land with its water and sewer pipes.
“The grant is based on the premise of enhancing the airport and adjacent county property for economic development and disaster response logistics by making sewer and water service available,” said Commissioner David Brock Smith. “If sewer and water could not be used if the airport were excluded from the service area, that would make any project economically unfeasible.”
Recouping $1 million
The city is under a deadline to get the water tank built; City Manager Gary Milliman said engineering must begin in April to meet a late-summer construction deadline.
And if it is delayed too long, the city will lose the grant, Milliman said.
“That would be extremely unfortunate to not access that funding,” he said. “We were the only project to be funded in the state of Oregon. The city’s not capable of paying the total cost of the project at this time. We’d have to wait some number of years for revenues to come into the city.”
All agreed at the special meeting Tuesday that both entities will benefit from future development at the location northeast of Brookings. City officials said they want to recoup the cost of their $1 million investment by having control over development there – development that can only occur with annexation to the city.
“The council is adamant that the money invested by the city must have some methodology to be recovered,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “The city is spending money to make it (water and sewer infrastructure) happen. Unless the city gets its costs recovered, we’re not moving ahead. That is ironclad to the city. There must be a way for us to recover our investment. Or I feel this is a broken deal.”
Smith said annexation and development of light industrial uses at the airport won’t recoup the city’s investment as quickly as will the System Development Fees Brookings charges to property owners in the area around the airport as the area grows.
“The county is under no obligation to recoup your investments,” Commissioner Dave Itzen stated. “We have no interest in doing that on behalf of the city. If that was your supposition, your were sorely mistaken.”
Urban Renewal Area
Another concern the commissioners have is the possibility the city would place the area into its Urban Renewal Area.
When land is placed into a URA and assessed for tax purposes, any future assessment increases – a maximum of 3 percent a year – go to the city’s URA fund, and none of that goes to the county or other taxing districts.
URAs are created to make improvements to “blighted” areas, and Brookings is the only city that has such a district in Curry County. They are typically in place for 15 years; after that, the money collected is to then be disbursed to other taxing districts, but County Assessor Jim Kolen said other cities with URAs most often merely continue them. Brookings’ was established in August 2002.
The county lost out on $30,000 last year alone on revenue that could have been collected for county services but instead went to the URA, Kolen said. Schools lost out on $543,000 last year.
Smith suggested the city change its law about in-city service, and allow property owners in unincorporated areas to access services without annexation.
“The city took a pretty hard stand,” said Commissioner Susan Brown said. “There are ways we can do this without annexation. But they’re saying annexation or nothing.”
Brown would prefer the land remain under the auspices of the county with the two entities signing an IGA so the county could develop its land separately. Such an IGA could be worded to allow the city’s sewer and water lines to cross county property to reach its proposed water tank to be built on land owned by South Coast Lumber on the hillside east of the runway.
How the county would develop its land without water or sewer services – much less, money – was not discussed.
City zoning, too, could preclude certain kinds of development the county’s zoning currently allows.
“Could someone propose something via county zoning and have to go through city planning for a conditional use permit?” asked Hedenskog. “That might open a can of worms, but we’re dealing with two jurisdictions governing over two zonings.”
And, “Why is the county dragging its feet on this?” he added. “The city could develop the airport and everyone wins.”
“I am kind of surprised at the reluctance the county has about annexation,” said Councilor Jake Pieper. “I thought it was a slam dunk, a no-brainer. I thought the county would be glad to have an area annexed into the city. The way the airport is now, it’s undeveloped. I’m unsure how the county would develop it. But bringing city infrastructure there opens the door for development.”
Councilor Brent Hodges agreed.
“There is no downside to this,” he said. “It will help with job creation, infrastructure, capital projects, the water master plan. Without it, it’s stagnant. It’s time to do something with that property. The county is in need of funds, and the city needs jobs. I don’t see any reason for a great delay.”