Deschutes County’s top legislative priorities include getting the county another judge and killing a bill that would prohibit the county from charging new marijuana growing operations for the impact they’ll have on county roads.
County commissioners went through a list of bills during a work session Wednesday and picked the ones they think Deschutes County should lobby for or against. The marijuana system development charge prohibition, a bill increasing the number of judges and a bill that would let Redmond add affordable housing outside city limits topped the county’s list.
Deschutes County is unique among Oregon counties in that it requires would-be marijuana growers to go through a full land use review process, including notifying neighbors and possible public hearings if anyone appeals a county employee’s administrative decision.
Also included in that review process: a requirement that marijuana growing operations pay fees based on the number of car trips they’re expected to generate — the same requirement imposed on new businesses and homes built in the rural county.
“The transportation system can’t tell where a vehicle came from and what kind of land use it came from,” said Chris Doty, director of Deschutes County’s road department. “It just can tell that there are tires on the road.”
Senate Bill 365, introduced on behalf of the Legislature’s interim committee on the judiciary, would prohibit counties from imposing system development charges on any farms — including marijuana growing operations.
“It’s very clever of the marijuana industry to exempt farm uses because that encapsulates motherhood and apple pie, when really what it is, is marijuana,” Doty said.
The Oregon Farm Bureau opposes Deschutes County’s use of system development charges on marijuana growing operations. In a June letter to the County Commission, the bureau’s public policy counsel argued the county’s imposition of development charges constituted an illegal tax or fee on marijuana production.
The county’s development charges aren’t intended to punish marijuana growers, Doty said. Only marijuana farms are affected by the county’s SDCs because other farms in the county are constrained by decades-old irrigation water rights.
Deschutes County has more than 60 marijuana growing operations that have brought in more than $1 million in revenue from system development charges. One project those charges paid for was a roundabout to replace the dangerous four-way intersection at Powell Butte Highway and Alfalfa Market Road, near several marijuana facilities.
“It’s less about anything to do with marijuana,” Doty said. “This is a land use generating traffic, and it shouldn’t be exempted from system development charges.”
The bill has been referred to the Senate Business and General Government Committee, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.
The Deschutes County Circuit Court has a backlog of criminal cases, meaning serious cases can take more than two years to move through the court system. One of the biggest reasons for that backlog is that the county has only seven judges.
House Bill 2239, introduced on behalf of Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters, would give Deschutes County an eighth judge starting in 2021 and add judges in several other Oregon counties. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill in January but has yet to advance it.
Commissioners Tony DeBone and Patti Adair said they both told Gov. Kate Brown that Deschutes County needed a judge during a meeting the governor had with county commissioners in Salem earlier this week.
Redmond housing pilot
On Monday, Commission Chairman Phil Henderson testified in favor of a bill co-sponsored by Central Oregon Reps. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, and Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, that would allow Redmond to participate in the same affordable housing pilot program that will let Bend develop 394 homes outside of its urban growth boundary.
The pilot program allowed one city with a population greater than 25,000 and one with a population lower than 25,000 to develop affordable housing without going through the lengthy process usually required to expand a city’s urban growth boundary. Bend and Redmond were the only applicants.
The committee is expected to vote on the bill Monday. Henderson said Knopp plans to withdraw a Senate bill that would have the same result.
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Bulletin reporter Gary Warner contributed reporting.