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The city of Corvallis and Oregon State University have signed a memorandum of understanding that relieves the university from responsibility for paying the city's new public safety fee, the Gazette-Times has learned.

Instead of paying the fee, the university is extending its grant program that helps fund three Corvallis Police Department community livability officers. The university also is tacking on an additional contribution to assist with countywide 911 emergency dispatch service.

The financial impact is close to a wash. The university’s livability payment is $400,000 per year, with the agreement calling for an additional $75,000 per year for the 911 assistance. If OSU had just paid the additional fee for public safety it would have amounted to approximately $375,000 per year, according to Corvallis City Manager Mark Shepard.

According to the agreement (see the complete text at the website), the extension of the grant and the 911 contribution will be in place at least through 2023.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for marketing and university relations, said the university felt that it was illegal for the city to charge the new public safety fee but that OSU wanted to make sure the university still was contributing to collaborative livability efforts that have been ongoing since 2012.

“It’s a win, win, win for the city, the community and the university,” Clark said.

Shepard agreed, noting that the extension of the grant and the 911 assistance “all benefit the city.”

The city did not address any legal issues in the agreement, which includes a clause that notes that Shepard is authorized to “enter into an agreement with large utility customers to provide an alternate contribution in lieu of the fees.”

There was no public announcement of the agreement, which OSU signed June 7 and the city on June 10. Shepard said that the two entities “were just doing business."

The public safety fee, which took effect July 1, is paying for new hires by the Corvallis Police Department and the Corvallis Fire Department. The fee is part of the city services bill, which pays for water, stormwater, wastewater, transit service, urban forestry and street maintenance. Residential, commercial and retail customers all pay the bill, as well as nonprofits such as churches, Samaritan Health Services, OSU and the Corvallis School District. The bill does not include utility services such as natural gas or electricity.

The fee was approved unanimously by the City Council in November. The council was not required to refer the matter to voters.

The fee is paying for 19 additional hires for the police and six more in fire. The police hires are aimed at making the department more proactive and able to engage in more community policing. The hires also will allow the department to eliminate 12-hour shifts for officers.

The fire staffers will allow the department to have both ambulance and fire crews at station two on Southwest 35th Street and at station three on Northwest Circle Boulevard.

Councilors tweaked the fee at their Monday meeting, voting unanimously to charge all residential customers the same $17.31 per month for public safety. As originally passed by the council the fee charged $34.62 per month for the 845 residential customers who have 1-inch water pipes. The vast majority of homeowners have 5/8-inch or ¾-inch pipes.

Councilors said it was unfair for some customers to be paying twice as much as those next door. According to city staff the four reasons that generally lead to a 1-inch meter are the size of the house, the elevation of the home, the number of water fixtures in the home or whether it has fire sprinklers (a 1-inch meter is required for fire suppression).

Councilors did not address any of the four issues during their deliberations. See the website for a dot map that shows where the residences with 1-inch meters are located.

County voters will be casting ballots Nov. 5 on a measure that would establish a countywide 911 emergency services district. If the district passes the 911 measure the public safety fee will be reduced by the approximately $1.2 million per year that the city of Corvallis currently pays to support 911 service. Residential customers, said Finance Director Nancy Brewer, likely will see about a $4.25 monthly reduction.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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