Behind Oregon City’s Hidden Tax on West Linn Residents

The city of Oregon City wants to charge the Tri City Service District (of which West Linn is a partner) and South Fork Water Board (of which West Linn is a co-owner) a tax hidden in the form of a franchise fee. I would like to describe why the West Linn City Council is opposing this action.

The Oregon City Commission voted to impose a fee on public utilities operating within Oregon City right of way. These fees are imposed on existing utilities that have been in the ground for decades. Because both the Tri City Service District and South Fork Water Board plants are in Oregon City, the financial impact on West Linn is staggering — an estimated $1.5 million over the next ten years.

Oregon City has rejected — twice — West Linn’s request to pay a franchise fee based on a more reasonable linear foot basis. And, they continue to cite their interpretation of ‘home rule” as the reason why they can charge this franchise fee.

The “home rule” concept allows cities to make their own decisions. I agree that “home rule” is an important concept for cities, because it allows us to make the best decisions for our communities at the right times. But I do think there’s a difference between the concepts of “can” and “should.” There’s a difference between whether Oregon City can impose a tax, or should impose a tax. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. With this franchise fee issue, West Linn is a captive audience, as we cannot make a business decision to extricate ourselves from our utilities based in Oregon City, and we cannot vote in Oregon City elections.

West Linn is not opposed to paying our fair share if we need to replace the pipes in the Oregon City right of way. After all, we imposed a similar financial impact on Lake Oswego and Tigard when they proposed replacing their pipes in our right of way. Oregon City has gone too far and is gouging West Linn in their effort to recoup more funds for their city.

We will continue to monitor and work on this issue on behalf of our West Linn residents. Please let me know if you have any questions. The best part of my role as your city councilor is to advocate on your behalf on intergovernmental issues like this one.


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