City fights back in Rawlins case

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By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

With the possibility of state laws restricting Local Improvement Districts (LID), Keizer officials are fighting back.

City Attorney Shannon Johnson and City Manager Chris Eppley have been meeting with legislators and released documents regarding the Rawlins property in Keizer Station, which is at the heart of the potential state law changes in House Bill 4017.

Johnson said Tuesday morning he and Eppley met with state representatives Brian Clem and Kevin Cameron last week, then met with John Davis on Monday.

“We have requested meetings with the other members of the Rural Communities Committee, but nothing is scheduled yet,” Johnson said. “The intent of the meetings is to point out the problems with the portion of HB 4017 that attempts to void the city’s LID lien against the Rawlins property.”

Though the ongoing saga between the city and the Rawlins family dates back to 2005, the issue became more heated last year when the Rawlins family went to state lawmakers to protest LID charges on their Keizer Station property, which sat undeveloped while surrounding parcels were built on.

A letter addressed to city leaders last June from state Sen. Tim Knopp and Rep. Gene Whisnant called into question the $6.7 million LID on the property.

“The Rawlins are a family of modest means, and we have been told that the amount of the LID greatly exceeds the Rawlins’ ability to pay the assessment,” the letter read in part. The letter also stated the LID was placed on the property “over their strenuous objections.”

Attorneys for both sides attempted to negotiate a settlement last year, to no avail.

Last week, for the first time, Johnson released a timeline for the Rawlins LID, dating back to when the Keizer Station LID process was started in early 2005.

According to the timeline, the Rawlinses challenged the LID by filing a lawsuit in circuit court and appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) in mid-2005. Later that year the two sides entered into settlement discussions.

In October 2005, the Rawlinses and Chuck Sides’ company Northwest National LLC entered into a long-term ground lease on the two parcels of land.

“The lease provides that Northwest National will pay the LID assessments and property taxes on the Rawlins’ properties, along with net rent to Rawlins of $12,500 per month for the first year and $25,000 per month thereafter,” Johnson wrote.

The timeline then notes the Rawlinses agreed to dismiss the lawsuits and LUBA appeal in November 2005. Both parties signed a settlement agreement allowing the city to make improvements in the LID and to assess construction costs against the Rawlins properties.

Work between November 2005 and December 2007 resulted in “significant sewer, water, storm drain and transportation infrastructure” being done. According to the timeline, the Rawlins properties were assessed at $256,920 in 2006 by Marion County but $7 million after the improvements.

In February 2008, the properties were assessed at approximately $6 million. The timeline notes the Rawlinses did not object to the assessment. From then until August 2010, LID payments were made.

Last spring, city leaders began a foreclosure process on the LID assessments after nearly three years without payments.

Johnson further noted rent payments to the Rawlins continued even though LID payments stopped.

“The total estimated rent paid to the Rawlins is in excess of $2 million,” Johnson wrote. “The Rawlins have never paid or offered to pay any of the LID assessments. The Rawlins purchased the subject properties for $139,500 in 1994.”

Johnson summed up his case thusly: “If the LID lien is voided, it would mean the Keizer taxpayers pay $6 million and the Rawlins make nearly $2 million and still keep their property.”

Johnson also released the city’s pleas entered into record last month in Marion County Circuit Court.

Keizer Mayor Lore Christopher made mention of the issue at the end of Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting.

“It’s easy to understand,” she said. “The attachment of the recent plea is so good. It completely tells the story. Folks, for first time, we’ve told the story and showed everything that has transpired. We worked diligently to work with these people. It certainly tells a compelling story. We worked with the people and we did everything right.”

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