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Bonus Coverage: The budget battle, downtown dollars: Skyline Forest update and more 

Council Roundup

The Bend City Council and staff head into an intensive round of budget talks this week that will produce the blueprint for next year's spending priorities. One person involved with the budget process said it's off to a positive start, but expect some tough negotiations this year between staff who are facing another round of potential lay-offs and the council. Also, it remains to be seen how well the council will work together to prioritize and, ultimately, compromise. To date, there hasn't been a lot of consensus on the council over issues of budgeting and planning. A recent vote to continue weekend transit operations with money previously designated for a left turn lane at the airport narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote. Similarly, a proposal to raise construction fees on builders to a rate that would allow the city to fully recover its costs was approved recently on a slim 4-3 margin.

In other city news, the council approved a new downtown taxing district that will generate about $120,000 for downtown improvement programs and administration. The move is a continuation of the existing downtown economic improvement district (EID) with some tweaks. The new district will tax property owners at a slightly higher rate (15 cents per square foot per year versus 11 cents) and the additional funds will offset loses from the dissolution of the fee-based Downtowners group, essentially creating one pot of funding.

Downtowners Executive Director Chuck Arnold said it's a more equitable way to fund activities that benefit all of downtown, including beautification efforts, marketing, event planning and his own full-time position.

"We're all in this together. Certainly there are those who don't want to be a part of something, but you have to wonder why they would have located where they (did) if they didn't want to be part of where they located," Arnold said - and if you can make sense of that you're probably a Navajo code talker. Regardless, Arnold points out that less than three percent of property owners objected to their inclusion in the district, as opposed to the 11 percent who opposed it during the last tax election in 2007.


The Mega Church Update

It appears the Westside Church, its Newport Hills neighbors, and city staff are close to an agreement over a disputed expansion of the church's campus on Newport Avenue. The church and the Newport Hills Neighborhood Association have been battling over Westside's proposed pre-school on the east side of the church's campus, which neighbors fear will bring additional traffic to the area and conflict with the residential character of the neighborhood. Under the terms of the settlement, which had yet to be finalized at press time, Westside Church would abandon its plans for a preschool in exchange for the ability to construct additional parking spaces for its church "sanctuary," which the church hopes to expand from an 800-person capacity venue to roughly 1,200 persons.

Skyline Bill Escapes House

In Salem, House lawmakers gave their initial stamp of approval on a plan that would allow some limited development on Skyline Forest. In exchange, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust would be able to purchase the balance of the forest that stretches from just west of Bend to nearly Sisters. The forest that dominates the horizon below the Three Sisters Wilderness area has long been the subject of discussion between timber interests, developers and conservationists. The latest deal, which would allow current owner Fidelity Timbers Resources, a subsidiary of the home insurance giant Fidelity National Finances, to develop 197 homes on the north end of the property outside of Sisters. The bill, which passed on a largely party line vote of 31-28, moves to the Senate where it is expected to get a decent reception in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Notably opposed was local Republican Rep. Gene Whisnant (Sunriver), which one person close to the process chalked up to sour grapes.

"He's upset that he's not in the driver's seat," the source said.

UGB Smackdown

In other goings on, the city of Bend got hit with a barrage of protests over its recently adopted growth plan. More than a dozen stakeholders filed formal objections with the state Department of Land Conservation Development before last Thursday's deadline. Most of the protests have to do with how the methodology that the city used to determine who would be included in the final plan. It's a high stakes game, those who are in are virtually guaranteed that they'll be able to develop their land as homes, office parks and shopping centers in the future, dramatically increasing the value of their property, while those who are out will be left with the impacts of urbanization but none of the windfall.

Land use watchdog Paul Dewey said the volume of appeals speaks to the flaws in the city's process, notably that it never revised its projected land needs in the face of an unprecedented national real estate collapse.

"It was a process basically defined as, 'if the property owner has an attorney, we'll put them into the UGB,'" Dewey said.

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