Neighbors in a private Bend subdivision say they pay too much in stormwater utility fees, and they want the city to do something about it.

Larry Waters, a former public works director in Washington state and the president of the River Rim Homeowners Association, is making his case that his private neighborhood in southwest Bend should not pay the same for stormwater services as the average resident.

Unlike other neighborhoods on publicly owned streets, neighborhoods like River Rim own and maintain their own stormwater systems, which in River Rim costs between $20,000 and $22,000 a year on top of the fees neighborhood property owners pay to the city, Waters said.

“(The city doesn’t) come and do anything here,” Waters said. “We are basically a big cash cow for the city.”

But the city said the fee, which was imposed starting in 2007, applies to all neighborhoods in Bend, regardless of whether the streets are private or public.

In Bend, stormwater, including stormwater from residential development, is expected to be contained within the subdivision, which is unrelated to whether streets within a subdivision are private or public, said Anne Aurand, the city’s communication director, in an email.

“The stormwater utility fee and water quality maintenance programs are needed to comply with state and federal regulations,” Aurand said. “It’s an overall system that is connected and includes education and outreach.”

The fees are charged to everyone because the use of the revenue is unrelated to whether a particular subdivision has public or private streets. According to city documents, the fees pay for a variety of water quality and street improvements, as well as larger capital infrastructure projects that benefit the entire city, rather than individual neighborhoods.

Waters said he understands how the stormwater fees support general services from which everyone benefits, and expects to pay a certain amount to support them.

To level the playing field, Waters is proposing the neighborhood pay the city about $10,000 instead of the $30,000 it pays currently in fees, under the logic that residents already pay a private contractor and the State Department of Environmental Quality $20,000 per year to maintain the stormwater system.

“We repeatedly have asked the City to show us how the benefits we get from the City’s (stormwater program) justify us having to pay over $20,000 more per year than an equally sized public subdivision,” Waters wrote in a letter to the city in June. “Since the City doesn’t have any monitoring wells within the subdivision, we fail to see how that response has any merit. Besides, even if it were true, why should we pay over $20,000 more per year than a public subdivision for the same claimed, benefit?”

If the subdivision is still expected to pay the full fee, Waters said the neighborhood could consider asking the city to become public, which would save the neighborhood about $20,000 in private costs.

“It would solve the stormwater issues,” Waters said. “If any dry well were to fail … it would cost us $25,000 to $30,000 to replace it. The liability would be taken off our shoulders.”

Aurand said that there is no petition process for a private neighborhood seeking to go public.

“If private street owners want to offer to dedicate private streets to the City, the City would have to accept in order for the dedication to be effective,” Aurand said in an email.

At this point, there is nothing within the current city code that would allow for the changes Waters seeks, said City Manager Eric King. Any changes to how these fees are charged would have to come from the City Council.

“This is a significant item from a policy perspective,” King said. “And that kind of change in policy … needs to originate from a council perspective.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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