Guest Editorial by Bill Robie • Government Affairs Director • Central Oregon Association of REALTORS®
The Bend Metro Parks and Recreation District is proposing to increase the System Development Charge for parks to $7,240 from $3,550. This proposal should be rejected by the Board of Directors.
While all impact fees unfairly force new home buyers to pay for the growth that benefits the entire community, a park SDC is the most inequitable because there is no connection between the charge and the use of park facilities. A park SDC is just another tax imposed on the engine of our local economy.
There is, however, a direct connection between SDCs and the cost of housing. Once the water and sewer SDCs are updated for their new master plans total SDCs in Bend will top $20,000 per house. That is approaching 10 percent of the price of an average house. The lack of affordable housing in Bend is a chronic and well documented problem. The continual ratcheting up of SDCs and other land use and building fees exacerbates that problem. The proposed doubling of the SDC during an historically slow housing market is more than bad judgment. It’s a harsh blow to our local economy and the dreams of people looking to purchase a new home.
The calculation of an SDC is hardly an exact science and involves mostly policy judgments. The park SDC is based on a desired “Level of Service” that is established arbitrarily. Remarkably the BMPRD’s estimate of future need for parks and trails does not take into account the availability of recreation opportunities on thousands of square miles of public land and hundreds of miles of trails surrounding Bend. The BMPRD assumes that all recreation needs of Bend citizens must be met by the district. This is unrealistic and results in excessive estimates of the amount of money the BMPRD needs to raise through the SDC.
The BMPRD uses a public survey to decide what facilities it will need in the future and, therefore, how much it will need to raise from the SDC. A survey is a useful tool for planning purposes, but it has its limitations. Without actual measurements of park and trail use it’s impossible to determine the true demand for recreation facilities. Survey respondents have no disincentive to limit their expectations of the park district because they don’t have to commit to paying for them. This is likely to result in an overestimate of need and a higher than necessary SDC.
It is difficult to view the BMPRD’s SDC increase without considering other recent policy decisions. The district wants to double the tax on new home buyers while it lavishes $7.5 million on new headquarters built on some of the most valuable real estate in the city. At the same time the district delayed badly needed playing fields for youth sports teams at Pine Nursery.
District leadership attributes the Pine Nursery delays to declining SDC revenue. But the shortage of ball fields in Bend has been common knowledge for years. The BMPRD took in tens of millions of dollars in SDC revenue during the housing boom and yet made little progress on addressing the playing field deficit. But it was able to squirrel away enough property tax revenue to feather its own nest with the gold-plated administration building.
The district could have exercised better political and fiscal judgment by constructing a riparian park along the river and then selling the remainder of the land for commercial development. The district could have built its new headquarters at the Pine Nursery or taken advantage of the soft market in commercial real estate and leased affordable space in any number of new, state of the art office buildings. These decisions would have been more profitable for the district and therefore beneficial to the taxpayers.
In its Fall 2008 newsletter the BMPRD ominously warns that not raising the SDC would “compromise the quality of life in Bend.” That remains to be seen. Government agencies are fond of predicting dire consequences for civilization if their funding declines. What is compromising the quality of life in Bend is rising unemployment, small business failures and a poor business climate. None of this will change until the housing market recovers. Obstructionist bureaucracies and high regulatory fees only contribute to the problem. They do not increase our quality of life.
The proposed park SDC is a bad idea and will be one more impediment to restoring a vibrant housing market and a thriving local economy. Healthy growth would benefit the park district – and the entire community – in the long run much more than this onerous tax on new home buyers.
Government Affairs Director
Central Oregon Association of REALTORS®
2112 NE 4th St.
Bend, OR 97701