County Takes Gentle Approach to Independence Jurisdiction Issues | News

INDEPENDENCE – When Does a County-City Difference of Opinion Become a Dispute?

Almost never, at least it seems from recent events. After a traffic assessment by Engineer Todd Whitaker, Polk County Public Works Director, was found to be partly flawed by Fred Evander, Planning Director for Independence, Whitaker appeared to take this only as a signal that the two might need to talk more.

“I hope this can be resolved,” said Whitaker, when asked about a meeting of the Independence Planning Commission last spring where some of his findings on the potential impact on traffic of a planned development in the southwestern part of town were played down by Evander. .

Whitaker, who oversees the county’s roads, had expressed concerns about the number of drivers who might want to head south from a proposed intersection at Talmadge Road – predicting that many would be likely to take him straight to Stapleton Road , once the subdivision is built.

“Some of what Mr. Whitaker said was not correct,” Evander told Commissioners. After reviewing data from the trip, Evander said he was confident some motorists would head north on Talmadge to Monmouth Street, connecting the freeway from there.

The only Planning Commissioner to speak at the meeting was Rebecca Jay, who observed that “people will understand pretty quickly that they don’t have to go through downtown” to get south.

Whitaker said he continued to view the future traffic pattern as “a matter of concern.” But rather than challenge on this, he contributed to Independence’s recent Transportation System Plan (TSP), as a member of the TSP Technical Advisory Committee.

While it appears Whitaker is taking a gentle approach to county jurisdiction matters, it seems he agrees with other county officials.

Responsibility for the surveillance, reclamation and maintenance of roads and streets can at times be difficult to discern – county arteries sometimes run directly into city streets, the county commissioner noted. Polk, Lyle Mordhorst, who also serves as the County Transportation Liaison for the Oregon Department of Transportation. .

For example, Hanna Road, north of Independence, is mostly in the county. However, a small part of it, about two blocks long, is in a branch of Independence.

“So when the county repaved Hanna Road, that little part was also paved,” Mordhorst said. Such situations are not unique to Polk County, he added.

In its city charter, Independence is defined as the territory surrounded by its limits. However, the Independence Bridge is an iconic example of the questions that can swirl about jurisdiction. Since Independence extended its urban growth limits and annexed land around the bridge, questions have been raised about sharing the costs of planned repairs to the bridge.

“We are currently in discussions with Independence to cover part of the maintenance costs,” Whitaker said.

The Polk County Road runs to the center of the Independence Bridge, joining half of Marion County in the middle. Although Marion County is the agency responsible for managing the maintenance of the bridge, Polk County pays a portion of these expenses under an existing agreement with Marion County.

“We contacted the city, in the hope that we could have a team effort on this,” Mordhorst said.

Independence’s previous TSP – also referenced in the current one – states that “as the city limits expand to encompass county road segments, ownership of those road segments is transferred to the city, so that roads can be maintained in accordance with urban standards ”. The city will simultaneously annex the lands and departmental roads “found inside or on the edge of the newly annexed lands,” according to the TSP.

However, Independence Mayor John McArdle said he was not aware of “any agreement for the city to own, operate, manage and finance” the bridge – a conclusion also reached by the construction manager city ​​audiences, Gerald Fisher.

“At this time, I haven’t seen any documents indicating that the city has jurisdiction or responsibility for maintenance for the bridge, intersection or Corvallis Road,” Fisher said. “All of my mapping says it’s under county control,” Fisher added.

In fact, the history of the Independence Bridge testifies to teamwork and also testifies to a first tragedy.

Almost 75 years ago a joint venture to replace the almost century-old ferry crossing was undertaken; Money for the bridge was raised through local fundraisers, state grants, and by the counties of Marion and Polk, both of which contributed 25 percent of the cost, according to the accounts of the ‘era. By the 1950s holiday season, the bridge was ready for a festive ribbon cutting.

In special tribute to the opening of the bridge, an article published five years ago in the Statesman-Journal examined the records of that day and the report of the death that occurred. The son of Independence founder Henry Hill, Verd Hill, died of a sudden heart attack during the December ceremony, “slumped in his chair on the dedication platform just two minutes before the scheduled time. speak”.

Recently, a jurisdictional issue unfolded on a smaller scale in the town, when resident Gary Brown inquired about the long-term parking of a large RV along the north end of Stryker Road. When the Independence Police Department (IPD) received Brown’s call, the officer instead sent it to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, assuming the stretch of street was in the county.

However, upon investigation, the large vehicle turned out to be within city jurisdiction, Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton confirmed. The tow could have cost $ 2,000 to $ 3,000, he said. But it was not just the potential cost that made his office reluctant to become more involved, he stressed.

The IPD and the sheriff’s office have a good relationship, he explained.

“When something is outside of our area, I don’t want to infringe on another (agency’s) area of ​​responsibility,” Garton said.

These “areas of responsibility,” which are sometimes called jurisdictions, can be confusing to the public, and that’s understandable, he added. For example, if an incident in Independence demonstrates a need for mental health intervention, it becomes the business of the sheriff’s office. The mobile crisis team – an assistant and a clinician – is dispatched by the county. “There is a lot of complexity to that,” Garton said.

In fact, the site that triggered the parking complaint is not actually within city limits, but the road right-of-way belongs to the city, said Independence Police Chief Robert Mason. .

“I know this is confusing and has been confusing for the agencies trying to respond to the many complaints.”

The situation ended in what some neighbors called “a happy ending”. Stryker Road now has a series of no-parking signs where the RV once parked, thanks to the Independence Police Department – and “Citizen Brown,” as it has been dubbed by friends for its repeated tracking of the problem for several weeks. .

When asked if the outcome could be so favorable for the Independence Bridge, Polk County Commissioner Mordhorst said he hoped for an amicable settlement between the county and the city. can be concluded.

And, because Independence recently lost its city manager and the police chief is temporarily in that role, Mordhorst said he thinks it’s not as important to give the city time to grow. adapt to recent changes. He wants to build relations with Independence, said Mordhorst. “I think we have time to do it,” he added.

Working in tandem on the independence urban growth boundary – including annexation and jurisdictional issues – is apparently exactly what Polk County Commissioners’ Council and Independence City had in mind earlier. was 28, when the two agencies reached an intergovernmental agreement committing to a cooperative process in which jurisdictional issues were considered. When disagreements arose, the commission and city council promised to meet to discuss a resolution of the matter.

The 1993 document, which was signed before Mayor McArdle or Commissioner Mordhorst was elected, is included in a comprehensive plan for independence that was adopted 20 years ago – in part to plan for future needs, including including those of competence.

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