A decade after incorporating as a city, La Pine is moving closer to taking over ownership of major local roads.

Earlier this month, the Deschutes County Commission explored the idea of handing over 21 miles of county-managed road within La Pine’s urban growth boundary. Chris Doty, director of Deschutes County’s road department, said a transfer would ultimately reduce costs for the county, cut down on confusion and pave the way for Oregon’s newest city to continue to grow.

“It’s about the city having control over the last bit of infrastructure within their boundary,” Doty said Wednesday.

Even after La Pine formally became a city in January 2007, Deschutes County continued to provide many of the same services it did prior to incorporation, including the management of major roads within the new city. The arrangement was formalized in 2009 through an intergovernmental agreement mandating that the county repairs roads within La Pine as requested, with reimbursement from the city. La Pine also maintains 12.9 miles of roads, primarily local routes and connectors, within city limits.

However, Doty said the city is beginning to outgrow this arrangement. Since the agreement was finalized, Deschutes County has spent an average of $403,000 on chip sealing, street overlays and other forms of road maintenance in La Pine. Doty added that those costs have increased in recent years. Overall, Doty said during the county’s work session that Deschutes County stands to incur $4.6 million in costs from managing streets within La Pine over the next decade.

Additionally, the complicated arrangement causes confusion over who maintains which streets within the city.

As La Pine continues to evolve, Doty said, the type of street maintenance the city requires is increasingly at odds with the more rural work the county typically performs. Cory Misley, city manager of La Pine, said the city is trying to make its streets more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. However, Doty said, the county’s approach to street sweeping is tailored to rural areas, which involves pushing debris onto road shoulders. This doesn’t work well for more urban streetscapes.

“From that perspective, there is value in local control,” Misley said.

However, cost remains an obstacle to any potential transfer. Doty said improving roads to La Pine’s standards and transferring ownership could cost up to $21 million, likely a prohibitive price for the young, small city. Doty said La Pine doesn’t have a road department to manage the additional miles, relying mainly on contractors for the streets that it manages.

Misley added that the city lacks a funding method, including transportation system development charges, to keep the roads from deteriorating.

“There are funding systems that every other city in Deschutes County has that we lack,” Misley said.

In all likelihood, Doty said, a transfer would require a cash payment from the county to the city, though county commissioners said they wanted to be creative in how they help the city.

“They have decided to become a city, and there’s a responsibility to that,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney.

Misley emphasized that the talks are very preliminary, and there’s no timeline for any potential transfer of ownership. Doty said the roads will be a topic of conversation at future meetings between city and county leaders, which could eventually pave the way for a phased transfer of ownership. He added that La Pine and Deschutes County will continue to work together on roads, even after a transfer.

“We’re not going to toss them the keys and wish them luck after the ink dries,” Doty said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com