The city may co-own the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, but councilors weren’t showing any favoritism Monday when they denied the EOTEC board’s request for a $10,000 credit on its sewer bill.
In September the center switched to irrigating with water from Stanfield Irrigation District, but prior to that EOTEC used city of Hermiston water for construction, irrigation and dust control. EOTEC has paid $14,000 in sewer charges for Hermiston water used at the facility this year.
City Manager Byron Smith, who represents the city on the EOTEC board, said the city charges sewer rates in conjunction with how much water a customer uses, assuming that most of it drains into Hermiston’s wastewater system to be recycled by the city. However, most of the EOTEC water did not return to the city’s sewer system.
“It didn’t need (to be) treated (at the city’s recycled water facility), it just went into the ground,” Smith said.
In light of that, EOTEC asked that $10,000 of its paid bill be turned into a credit for $10,000 in future sewer payments.
Councilor Doug Primmer disagreed.
“We don’t charge people less in the summertime when they’re watering their lawns,” he said. “That water doesn’t go to the sewer.”
Smith said water customers can pay to install a separate water meter on their irrigation systems if they do not want sewer charges attached to that portion of their water usage.
In the end Primmer, Lori Davis and Manuel Gutierrez outvoted Rod Hardin and Clara Beas Fitzgerald and denied the credit.
In another water-related issue, the council approved a $746,798 construction bid by C&E Construction to extend the regional water system to new data centers planned by VaData (a subsidiary of Amazon) on Westland Road and near Lind Road. VaData is paying the cost of the improvements to the system. Smith said the bid — the only one the city received — is more than $200,000 higher than engineers had estimated, but VaData was willing to pay the higher price to keep construction on schedule, and C&E had done good work on the system before.
On Monday the city also approved a resolution allowing businesses to count city parking lots on Orchard Avenue toward their off-street parking requirements.
City planner Clint Spencer said the two lots, comprised of 60 parking spaces on either side of Southwest Third Street, seem to have been built mostly for the Umatilla County Fair, which has moved. Several homes and offices along Third Street are zoned for commercial use and up for lease or for sale, and Spencer said it made sense to allow business opening within 500 feet of the city lots to count five spaces of those lots to meet their minimum off-street parking requirements.
The council also approved an updated agreement with the city of Umatilla to continue providing building inspector services, accepted a portion of Highland Avenue from Umatilla County and adjusted its Transient Room Tax formula to appropriate 3 percent of the tax toward a visitor center run by the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. Mayor David Drotzmann said the chamber has not yet found a new home for its offices and the visitor center in light of the city’s decision to take over management of the Hermiston Conference Center on Jan. 1.
The council’s regular meeting was preceded by a work session with Hermiston Police Department Chief Jason Edmiston and District Attorney Dan Primus about changes in drug laws. Possession of a “usable amount” of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs under two grams is now a misdemeanor in certain situations. The offense is still a felony, however, if the suspect has a previous felony conviction, other drug convictions or the circumstances upgrade it to a “commercial offense.”
Primus said those details seem to have escaped many people, including offenders who have told the officer arresting them: “What’s the big deal? It’s just a misdemeanor.” Some of them were surprised to discover they were still facing felony charges based on their criminal history.
Edmiston and Primus both said the law was creating extra work for law enforcement and the district attorney’s office as they had to look up the defendant’s criminal history and take other extra steps. Instead of being tested in the field, confiscated drugs are now being sent to the Oregon State Police crime lab to be tested and weighed, a process that takes 10 to 11 months because of backlogs.
“It is quite a few more steps or hoops to jump through,” Primus said.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.