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COBA Goes Panhandling Again 

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The City of Bend needs to crack down harder on panhandlers. Those guys from the Central Oregon Builders Association hanging around City Hall with cardboard signs and tin cups are getting really annoying.

COBA has been begging for handouts from the city at least since the summer of 2008, when it persuaded the city council to give builders a nine-month deferral on having to pay their SDCs (Systems Development Charges, or fees assessed on new developments to help defray some of the costs of growth, such as improvements to streets, sewers and water systems).

Not content with that, COBA got the city to extend the time limits on permits for projects that got stalled when the Bend real estate bubble collapsed, saving builders the effort and expense of having to apply for new ones. The city also is trying to create an enterprise zone that would give tax exemptions to new developments.

Now, looking like Oliver Twist, but not nearly as lovable, COBA is back asking for some more. COBA's Andy High met with some city councilors and city staff last week to make his latest handout plea: He wants Bend to cover part of the costs of running the building and planning departments out of its general fund instead of having them entirely paid by building and development fees, as they are now.

Further, COBA wants the city to explore reducing SDCs and making up the difference out of the general fund. We're not just talking about spare change here; the city anticipates roughly $5.5 million in SDC revenue for the current biennium, and it can ill afford to lose any of it.

We've got to grudgingly admire the magnificent brass gonads of Andy High and COBA. At a time when police and fire departments are understaffed and potholes are going unfilled because the city's finances are stretched to the breaking point, to come in and ask for another handout requires chutzpah of a rare and extraordinary quality.

High even went so far as to hint that if they don't get the handout, Bend builders might head for - are you ready for it? - Scappoose. That city has instituted heavy cuts in permit and license fees, High said, and the lure could prove tempting. (It seems to us that might not be a completely bad thing; it could reduce the glut of builders that Bend seems to be afflicted with.)

To their credit, City Manager Eric King and other officials at last week's meeting seemed cool to the idea of cutting SDCs. Unfortunately, they sounded more receptive to the proposal of shifting some of the cost of the building and planning departments to the general fund.

With the general fund as anemic as it already is, this is no time to be bleeding it to benefit a narrow special interest. When and if the full council takes up the proposal, it should tell COBA to go to hell or Scappoose, whichever is closer, and drive home the point by giving it THE BOOT.

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