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‘Getting the bills paid’ focus of officials’ meeting as part of City Hall Week

Posted: Tuesday, Sep 25th, 2012

Sen. Joanne Verger, Florence Mayor Phil Brubaker and Rep. Arnie Roblan discuss state legislative priorities in which local governments have a special interest during a public forum Sept. 19 at the Florence Events Center.

Last week an impressive array of city and state officials gathered to discuss some of the major concerns local governments are facing particularly in light of upcoming legislative sessions and shrinking budgets. That translates to, how are they going to raise revenue during a cold economy?

The forum was open to the public, and exactly one citizen showed up to listen to several elected and appointed officials, and some candidates, talk about subjects that will hit their constituents right in their pocketbooks.

The League of Oregon Cities provided the bases for the discussions. League staff were also on a fact-finding mission for preparing their positions as representatives to state government.

The agenda topics, which are five of the League of Oregon Cities’ 19 potential legislative priorities, focused on:

• a proposed amendment that would ease some of the limitations of local option levies;

• another proposed amendment that would reset a property’s assessed value to its real market value at the time of sale or construction, balancing some taxing inequities;

• population forecasting, how it affects communities and how often its done;

• funding requests from the Oregon Business Development Department to create jobs; and

• renewing the 9-1-1 tax and revising some of its policies.

Sounds a bit dry for a luncheon forum, but with mayors from up and down the coast talking about the operating dollars their cities have lost, and still stand to lose, pictures of the coast’s financial future were made real.

Florence Mayor Phil Brubaker, who was the panel moderator, said, explaining the afternoon’s direction, “We have to look to ourselves to make the community more livable.”

Brubaker supports the amendment proposal that would revise local option levies and leave it to the voters to tax themselves even when their area’s property values are reduced or “compressed.” Under Oregon’s current system, voters can be locked out of raising their own taxes to support the services they want. If the amendment makes it to the ballot and is approved, it would also allow 10-year options as opposed to the current five-year limit.

For Florence, said City Manager Jacque Betz, property taxes are not subject to compression. But a broader tax levy option should be available as a tool that cities can use to fund streets or public safety, she said.

“Each community wants a different level of service. If they want more, it costs more. If they want a better police presence or a bigger fire department, … we need to go out to the people and see what they’re really ready to pay for.”

Nola Xavier, city councilor, agreed.

She pointed out how more and more of city revenues go to personnel expenses, while many citizens push for improved streets and parks.

“Having the opportunity to have our citizens weigh in gives us the opportunity to see exactly what they want us to focus on,” Xavier said.

According to the League of Oregon Cities, last May, voters approved 18 of 21 local option levies, including six of six city levies and four of five county levies.

“While voters may still be concerned about the state of the economy, in many instances they clearly realize the value of local government services and are willing to tax themselves to provide those services,” the league states in its position paper. “Whether or not any local voters approve local option levies outside of compression limitations is irrelevant. What matters is that local voters currently do not have the freedom and opportunity to do so.”

How can an amendment with such complications be explained to the voters, asked Florence City Councilman Paul Holman, as well as others at the table.

“Step one is to convince the legislators to put it on the ballot. Step two is to go to the voters and educate them. ‘If you believe in your city council, vote yes,’” Brubaker responded.

Sen. Joanne Verger, who sat at the front of the room with Brubaker and House Speaker Rep. Arnie Roblan, addressed the league, which would be representing 242 cities to the legislature.

For the complete article see the 09-26-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-26-2012 paper.

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