Money matters that will matter

staff report / The Bulletin /

Published Jan 1, 2013 at 04:00AM

The New Year dawns cold and potentially bright. Provided we avoid the cliffs, sinkholes and constant threats of double-dip recession, these are the news topics that will have an impact on you, your pocketbook and, potentially, your lifestyle:

• Foreclosures

State lawmakers expect to take up the foreclosure issue again, this time to fix a law they approved last year that — combined with a court ruling — prompted lenders to change the way they handle foreclosures. Senate Bill 1552 allows homeowners facing nonjudicial foreclosure to request mediation sessions with their lenders. But it doesn’t apply to judicial foreclosures. So, instead of mediating, lenders shifted nearly all of their foreclosures into state courts.

• MERS

The state’s highest court is scheduled next week to take up a case against the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems — a private mortgage database set up by the nation’s largest lenders so they could sell mortgages, allegedly without publicly recording each transfer in the county in which the property is located. The Oregon Supreme Court will consider a 2012 state appeals court ruling that said nonjudicial foreclosures can be declared illegal if each change of title in a homeowner’s mortgage isn’t recorded with a county clerk before the process starts.

Separately, all county officials in the state will be watching Multnomah County to see if it files the lawsuit against MERS that the county commission authorized.

• PERS

The cost to fund the Public Employees Retirement System becomes a point of contention when the Oregon Legislature takes its seats in January and commences its real work in February. Gov. John Kitzhaber proposes saving $865 million from the program by capping cost-of-living increases and curtailing out-of-state credits to some retirees. The state faces a $16 billion unfunded liability owed its retirees. Unless the Legislature and governor come to a consensus, that continuing cost will be borne by those who employ those public servants: the taxpayers. School districts, in particular, say the Kitzhaber plan is a good start, but needs more work.

The governor would spend $253 million of the PERS savings on schools, but that would barely dent the contributions by school districts to teacher retirement plans. In Bend-La Pine School District, Kitzhaber’s plan would, for example, reduce the district pension contribution to $1.5 million this year rather than $4.5 million if the status quo remains.

• Bend Park&Recreation District

If you own your own home in Bend and plan on staying awhile, count on paying about $40 more in property taxes every year over the next 20 years. Why? Because a majority of voters — barely — on Nov. 6 approved a $29 million bond measure to fund a series of ambitious improvements to park and rec facilities. One of the most ambitious: ridding the Colorado Avenue dam of the hazard it presents to kayakers and floaters on the Deschutes River, a $5 million project on its own. Other projects include a lengthening of the Deschutes River Trail and turning the former park-and-ride lot on Simpson Avenue into a facility with an ice rink, athletic fields and a farmers market.

Voters kept the Deschutes County clerks counting until the next day before arriving at a final margin: 1,239 more votes for the bond, out of more than 30,000 cast.

• Bend water

A dispute over the impact the $68 million Bridge Creek water project moved to federal court in Eugene, where a judge enjoined the city from moving forward until environmental issues were addressed. The city resubmitted its permit application to the U.S. Forest Service — the pipeline crosses a national forest — to address some objections raised by Central Oregon LandWatch in its federal suit.

Delays related to the legal challenge could raise the project cost beyond $68 million. Ratepayers began paying for the project cost in 2008. The entire project, including the new pipeline and associated intake facility, cost ratepayers between 85 cents and $1.70 additionally each month, for a total of between $10.20 and $20.40 annually, according to City Manager Eric King. The project would replace aging and failing pipes and give the city more control over the quantity of water it takes from Tumalo and Bridge creeks.

• Bend sewer

A number of troublesome problems, including a collapsed sewage line and an underground “void” around another line that resulted from causes yet unknown, underline the fact that Bend’s aging sewage system is in need of significant work. The bill to address what the city Public Works Department identified as problems could be as high as $174 million. Robotic cameras sent into sewer lines discovered instances in which gas lines and tree roots bored into sewer lines and sewer lines collapsed, as well. The main problem, though, is that the system is at its capacity and that could undermine development and job growth.

In addition, the city main sewage treatment plant, 20 years old, is past due for upgrades for efficiency and compliance. Many of the sewer lines date back a century. Repairing and improving the system could require a near doubling of sewer rates from $42 to $81 by 2021. Watch for the Bend City Council to take up this expensive proposition in 2013.

• Mirror Pond

They are close to $100,000 in but without a clear way forward. “They” are a group of public and private agencies, including the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power and William Smith Properties Inc. Together, they seek a method of removing tons of silt that accumulated in Mirror Pond, the landmark body of water in central Bend backed up behind the Newport Avenue dam. Without a solution, the gathering silt will one day turn the beloved pond into a mud flat.

Just studying the problem is estimated to cost a half-million dollars. To actually do something may cost millions; nobody has proposed a figure rooted in actual data. The public remains invested through public agencies, but private concerns are sharing the cost, as well.

• Bend police

Depending on Bend’s fiscal future, police services could be affected in the coming years. Chief of Police Jeff Sale told city councilors in May that if the police department budget remains flat over the next few years, it may have to make drastic cuts to the services it offers.

The reduction plan was based on a worst-case scenario in which the police budget would increase by only 2 percent a year, while calls for service would keep increasing between 7 and 9 percent each year.

Sale told councilors that detectives might stop investigating property crimes and some thefts. By 2016, he told councilors, detectives would stop investigating sex abuse and rape, unless the victim was a child or elderly or had a disability.

If, like this year, the city continues to receive more property tax revenue than expected, some or all cuts could be prevented.

• Oregon State University-Cascades Campus

The push continues for OSU-Cascades to bring an expanded four-year campus to Bend, starting with pilot programs in 2015. Budget-setting lawmakers in Salem are expected to consider whether to provide $16 million requested by Gov. John Kitzhaber for the proposed expansion of the Bend campus. The state contribution is the lion’s share of $24 million estimated for the project.

OSU-Cascades has raised more than $2.9 million in private donations from 69 supporters. That puts the university well on its way toward a community fundraising goal of $4 million. Another $4 million is expected from the university itself. When the expansion is finished, students can attend the branch campus as freshmen and sophomores. By 2025, OSU-Cascades could enroll as many as 5,000 students.