Oak Harbor mayor breaks tie, sewer study to proceed
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
February 22, 2012 · Updated 1:26 PM
A study that will help determine the fate of a proposed local improvement district for a waterfront community in Oak Harbor will move forward after all.
Earlier this month, in a rare occasion in which a tie vote had to be broken by Mayor Scott Dudley, the decision was made to hire Macaulay & Associates to perform a special benefit analysis for Driftwood Beach Addition.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the numbers so I’m going to vote in favor,” said Dudley, after receiving a procedural go ahead from the city attorney.
Council members Bob Severns, Rick Almberg, and Beth Munns voted against the proposal while Danny Paggao, Jim Campbell and Tara Hizon voted to move ahead with the study.
Located next to Windjammer Park and commonly known as Dillard’s Addition, the waterfront community has been the source of contention and debate for years. The issue revolves around the neighborhood’s sewer system.
Most residents don’t like it and want something new installed. But it will be expensive and homeowners are looking to pay the bill collectively through the formation of a local improvement district.
It’s a complicated issue, however, as state law doesn’t allow the cost of the special benefit to be greater than the increase in value to homes. For example, if Driftwood residents each had to pay $10 for a new system, but their home values only increased by $5, the improvement district could not move forward.
But determining the special benefit can be tricky and the council has been discussing the matter for nearly a year. This month, the contentious issue once again resulted in debate and division.
Despite a unanimous decision this past June to move toward the hiring of a specialized firm to perform the complicated $31,500 study, several council members now argued against the motion.
Almberg said he couldn’t justify the expense when he believed the results of the study would only prove that an improvement district would not be able to move forward due to the special benefit received.
“I think we’ll be spending $31,000 to find out the obvious,” he said.
Another point of concern was that Carollo, the engineering firm the city hired to work on its new sewer treatment plant, is also looking at ways to get properties in and around Oak Harbor that are currently on private systems connected to city sewers.
The firm may come up with a viable solution other than the creation of an improvement district.
“I guess I don’t see the value of doing a special benefit analysis if we’re working on a city plan to incorporate everyone on a sewer system,” Munns said.
Those arguments weren’t enough to persuade everyone, however.
Hizon said she also wants to see all city residents hooked into the system once a new sewer plant is built. But she said Dillards’ homeowners have wanted a special benefit analysis for years and the study is the only way to know whether an improvement district can move forward.
“I’m looking forward to some detailed analysis and some answers so we can make the best possible decision for this very specific neighborhood,” she said.
Similarly, Paggao said the purpose of the study is to provide the council with the information it needs to make an informed decision. Doing so without it would be based on best guesses, he said.
“I think it would be purely speculation if we say they don’t have any special benefits at all,” he said. “We need to do this analysis.”
In a later interview, City Engineer Eric Johnston said the cost of the study has since been negotiated down to below $30,000, though a final amount had not yet been finalized. Once a contract is signed, the work should take about 12 weeks to complete, he said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.