Benton County delays West Richland road decision

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 16, 2013 

Benton County commissioners Tuesday delayed a decision on a controversial proposal to pave some roads near West Richland -- one that would rely on property owners to cover costs through a per-parcel assessment.

Commissioners plan to take up the matter again Feb. 5. In the meantime, they asked staff to research what it would take for the county to pave one of the roads -- 38th Avenue -- on its own dime, and to talk with West Richland officials about a partnership.

The road "to me looks like an arterial street that eventually will be owned by somebody. City, county, somebody," Commissioner Jim Beaver said Tuesday. "Why (aren't) the county and the city building 38th?"

Commissioners also asked staff to research a legal issue related to the assessments.

The proposal involves forming a County Road Improvement District, or CRID, in the Willamette Heights area near West Richland.

A group of residents proposed the CRID, saying the paved roads are needed for safety and would benefit the whole neighborhood.

But other residents argue the benefit would be disproportionate, with some property owners forced to pay thousands of dollars for roads they hardly ever, or never, would use.

Through the proposed CRID, around two miles of privately maintained dirt roads would be replaced with paved roads built and maintained by the county. Willamette Heights landowners would foot the bill through per-parcel assessments, estimated at $21,500.

That's based on a total project cost -- including right-of-way purchase and construction -- of around $2 million. Public Works Manager Steve Becken has cautioned those figures are based on a "worst-case" cost scenario and could turn out to be lower.

On Tuesday, he recommended delaying a CRID decision while staff reviews state law and researches commissioners' authority when it comes to assessments, after a concern raised about assessment amounts.

Becken said building 38th Avenue as a county-funded project isn't in the county's six-year road plan or budget.

Commissioner Shon Small, chairman of the commission, said Tuesday's delay isn't an attempt to "kick the can forward," but to make time for additional research.

"This is a $2 million decision" that commissioners aren't taking lightly, he said.

Also, Jerome Delvin, the newest commissioner, acknowledged that some CRID opponents have questioned whether he should participate in a vote on the matter.

Last year, before he took office as commissioner, he wrote a letter in his role as a state senator supporting the proposal.

Delvin is a longtime state legislator who's resigning his seat to serve as commissioner. He said after Tuesday's meeting that he's consulting with county attorneys about the appearance of fairness issue.

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