WEATHER IN LINCOLN COUNTY


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While our storm swirls, another one is brewing in our cities and counties

Opinion Editorial by Michelle Amberg, City Manager, City of Toledo

November is the time of year when property tax bills are mailed from your local county assessor’s office. It is not unusual to hear complaints regarding property taxes and to receive inquiries as to why taxes keep going up even though property values have gone down. I would be happy to meet with anyone and explain how Measures 5 and 50 govern property taxes here in Oregon; however, that is not my focus today.

Historically, property taxes were seen as a way for people who live in a community to contribute to the health, safety and maintenance of their community. I regularly hear from people who believe that the available property tax dollars are more than sufficient to provide the basic city services such as public safety, health and welfare. You might be surprised though. In October I conducted a survey of Oregon cities to see if other cities were in the same upside down situation regarding public safety costs versus revenue received from property taxes. The survey results are shown in the following examples:

City Public Safety Spending as a Percentage of Property Tax Revenue

Gresham 175.65%, Forest Grove 107.80%, Klamath Falls 103.11%, Fairview 153.33%, Independence 123.53%, Hood River 242.94%, Wood Village 105.17%, Aumsville 136.73%, Toledo 126.37%, Bandon 623.38%, Shady Cove 107.31, Lakeview 126.88%, and Stanfield 275.97%,

Additional research conducted by the League of Oregon Cities yielded the following information:

City Public Safety Spending as a Percentage of Property Tax Revenue

Myrtle Point 192%, Gresham 169%, Bend 156%, Salem 114%, Corvallis 111%, Albany 106%, and Portland 95%

As you can see from these figures, throughout the state, property tax revenues are not covering the costs of public safety, let alone all the other public services local government provides. A League of Oregon Cities report entitled “Fiscal Challenged for Oregon’s Cities” states that property tax revenues, when compared to personal income, have dropped from almost 5% in the late 1980’s to about 3% currently. It is also interesting to note that in Toledo property taxes account for roughly a third of our annual General Fund revenue.

Clearly cities are relying on other forms of revenue to make up shortfalls. In Toledo we rely on fees, state revenue sharing, rates for utilities such as water and sewer, franchise fees, licenses, permits, grants, and service contracts (police, library, fire) to make up the difference. From these additional sources, we can continue to offer a variety of services such as police, fire, library, pool, streets and street lighting, support for special events, lighting at Memorial Field, water, sewer, storm drainage as well as all the maintenance and administrative activities that support these services. Other local governments use various local taxes (transient room tax, gas tax, etc.) and local levies to help span the revenue gap.

I am sharing this information with you so that as we enter into our budget planning season you can be well-informed regarding the revenue streams which provide public services. It takes a considerable amount of planning and effort on the part of your local government officials to assure that police and fire services are available when you need them, that streets are maintained, that you have recreational opportunities, that you can check the latest best seller from the local library, that clean safe water flows from the tap and wastewater is simply flushed safely down the drain. It is a paradox that good stewardship and fiscal policy are often criticized when in reality they make running a city seem effortless.

Michelle Amberg
Toledo City Manager

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