By Thomas Fisher

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

It seems The Bulletin never finds a new idea or fee change it doesn’t oppose automatically. A recent editorial detailing the “flawed” park district’s examination of possible changes in system development charges methodology is a case in point. According to the paper, proposed variations might be acceptable if SDC calculations on new commercial construction meant a reduction in homebuilders’ fees, resulting in affordable housing. If all SDC charges imposed by the city and park district were eliminated, new housing will still be unaffordable.

Currently, Zillow lists Bend’s median home price at $433,600 and median listing price at $519,000. Total new home SDC charges (city and park district) are approaching $25,000. Using established calculations determining “housing affordability,” produces a feasible monthly payment approximately $1,400, for purchasing a home valued around $225,000. Subtracting the SDC charge of $25,000 from either median market or listing price does not approach the $250,000 affordable rate. This limits available housing for anyone making less than the average family income of $69,600. Affordable housing in Bend will be accomplished through a concerted effort of all stakeholders. A reduction in city and/or park district SDC fees will only result in a symbolic gesture toward solving Bend’s affordable housing situation. Affordable housing should be approached as a real estate affirmative action program for nonmillionaires.

The Bulletin criticized park district SDC fee methodology based on square footage, number of bedrooms or the percentage of nonresident employees as fraught with uncertainty. These figures are derived from solid data and statistical analysis. Until a developer/builder knows exactly how many individuals will live in a given household or nonresident employees work in a particular business, determining SDC fees will necessarily be based on historical and emerging socioeconomic factors, not immediately attainable hard numbers. The more than 70 informational pages presented at a recent SDC workshop contained detailed analyses of possible SDC methodology changes. Pros and cons were discussed at length. Summaries of three SDC stakeholder meetings were presented and discussed. The over 30 participants included a wide range of civic, business, and nonprofit representatives. Input provided a different, but important, perspective on SDCs. No decisions were made, and a second workshop on Feb. 19 will finalize concrete proposals. An SDC methodology document will be produced, and a public hearing held on May 21, giving residents ample opportunity to voice their opinions on proposed SDC changes.

The Bulletin suggested SDC changes should be publicly vote on rather than generated “at the whim of the park district board.” This process is anything but whimsical. By statute, various tax or fee increases much be approved via public referendum. This issue is not one of them. Oregon has very specific regulations regarding SDC methodology. It must be feasible, equitable, and defensible. They are limited to projects increasing capacity, not for general operations. Funds must be tied to projects in a comprehensive plan. SDC fees are “upfront” charges on new construction covering new parks, trails, or facilities to maintain expected levels of service. The Bulletin seemingly prefers the park district operate as “a committee of the whole.” Under this structure, eligible voters would vote yea or nay on every decision brought before the board. Such a system is neither equitable, efficient nor effective, providing a waste of time, effort, and money. At some point, citizens need to put a modicum of faith and trust in elected (sometimes appointed) officials that they will govern for the overall benefit of the community.

Through information provided by surveys and various organizations, such as Visit Bend and the Chamber of Commerce, we know Bend’s attractiveness is significantly attributable to park district facilities and programs. I do not think the same could be said about Bend’s road conditions, housing costs, traffic issues, etc. Recent Bulletin editorials were exceedingly critical of the park district’s operations. My considered opinion is the district board and staff operate with the utmost ethical consideration in the planning, budgeting, and operation of park facilities and programs for the betterment of all local citizens.

—Thomas Fisher lives in Bend and has served on the Bend Park & Recreation District budget committee.