Shady Cove voters to decide water district's future — again

SHADY COVE — For the second time in five years, residents will decide whether the Shady Cove Water District should be dissolved — or maybe not.

Measure 15-100 on the Nov. 2 ballot aims to eliminate the district and liquidate its remaining assets on a pro-rata basis among valid debt holders.

But former water district manager and board president James Collier hopes a judge will put a stop to the election.

His attorney, Michael Kellington, has filed a petition in Jackson County Circuit Court asking that the county not be allowed to hold the election or to certify its results because the measure is "defective."

"Article 4 of the Oregon Constitution says if you have a law, any law, it must address one issue only," Kellington said.

He said the current ballot measure addresses two issues, dissolution of the district and distribution of debt.

"The problem with the wording is that it presents a difficult dilemma for the voter," Kellington said.

"Say I'm a voter who wants to dissolve the district, but I am also a valid debt holder and I'm not interested in being paid pennies on the dollar. I don't have that option on this ballot."

The debt was incurred by the previous water board when it began billing a water service fee of $6 per month for water it could not yet provide.

Before the fee was ruled an illegal tax in Circuit Court in April 2009, nearly 50 residents had each paid between $6 and $72.

A month after the court ruling, the district reported $3,013 in its account. At the time, Collier noted that the court had not ordered refunds and said he hadn't received any refund requests.

On July 1, 2009, an election replaced the old board with new members whose campaign promise was to dissolve the district.

When they took office, the new board found $624 left in the district's account. They voted to return the money on a pro-rata basis to those who had paid the fee. They estimated the repayment at less than 25 cents on the dollar.

Jackson County Counsel Frank Hammond and current water district attorney Michael Franell declined comment on Kellington's petition.

The water district was formed as a nontaxing entity in a 2002 election. The board members spent nearly three years trying to find funds for a municipal water system in Oregon's largest town that still relies on wells.

When no funding became available, the original board members petitioned the county in 2005 for an election to dissolve the district, and then they resigned. Collier, who had been appointed to the board, did not resign and appointed replacement commissioners.

The replacement board asked the county to stop the election, but it was held anyway. Residents voted 567 to 114 to dissolve the district. That election was ultimately ruled invalid by the Oregon Court of Appeals in February 2008 and the water district was back in business.

Last fall, a citizen's petition asked the board to expedite dissolution of the district and the board submitted a dissolution plan to the county, as required by law.

In the meantime, Collier filed suit, asking for $8,500, the amount he said he had loaned to the district to pay court costs required to reestablish the district. The court denied his request in August.

A hearing on Kellington's petition has not been scheduled yet.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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