IMAGE: Lukas Ketner
As many as 11 bonds and levies could be on the November 2008 ballot, according to a survey this month of local taxing agencies by the Multnomah County Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission. (See chart at right.)
The commission, which oversees county budgets, asked the county's 35 taxing districts (think cities, school boards, fire departments and water districts) what tax measures they're planning for the ballot in the next two years.
Three of the 11—Portland's parks levy and public safety bonds, and Parkrose School District's levy—are considered the most tentative (see page 18 for a related story). Portland may not need to renew its 2002 parks levy because a strong economy has improved city revenues, says Ken Rust, Portland's interim chief administrative officer.
Brendan Finn, chief of staff for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees parks, says Saltzman wants Mayor Tom Potter to earmark $2.7 million per year in his upcoming budget proposal for parks instead of asking voters to renew the levy. The levy covers maintenance and some capital projects like new pools and skate parks.
"It's the No. 1 priority coming out of our office," Finn says, adding his boss's request has majority support on the City Council.
It's also uncertain if the city will ask voters to pass a bond to pay for public safety. The amount of the bond and which projects it would cover have not been determined, Rust said, but possibilities include a regional police training facility, an emergency operations center and a new 800-megahertz radio system.
The city will, however, ask voters to renew a 2002 levy for children's services that covers child-abuse prevention, after-school programs and youth mentoring. And the county may ask voters to pass a $200 million bond to help build a new courthouse. Rhys Scholes, spokesman for county Chairman Ted Wheeler, calls the current courthouse "dramatically overcrowded [and] seriously structurally deficient."
Both city and county officials worry the November 2008 ballot will be overstacked with tax requests.
"That's always the concern," Rust says. "We try to coordinate as best we can with other jurisdictions, but given the rules of the road these days, the best opportunity to bring these things to the voters is during the general election."
That's because of the state's double-majority requirement for money measures. Tax requests not included in a general election like November 2008 must get a majority of votes and a majority of registered voters to turn out. That 10-year-old requirement prompts taxing districts to crowd their requests onto November ballots in even-numbered years. But that, in turn, makes it harder to get voter approval for all the requests.
The dynamic of who asks for what and when may change because of House Joint Resolution 14, which would exclude November and May elections each year from the double-majority standard. If the House and Senate pass the proposed change to the Constitution, it would then require statewide voter approval.
Here are the pending tax requests for November 2008. Levies are in rates per $1,000 of assessed property value. Rates aren't yet available for bonds, because the bonds' time period and interest rates haven't yet been determined.
Cities & County
City of Portland:
Local-option replacement levy for children's programs
46 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $92 on a house assessed at $200,000
Local-option replacement levy for parks
39 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $78 on a house assessed at $200,000
General-obligation bonds for public-safety projects
General-obligation bonds for new courthouse
City of Troutdale:
New local-option levy
About 29-39 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $58-$78 on a house assessed at $200,000
Parkrose School District:
New local-option levy
75 cents to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $150-$300 on a house assessed at $200,000
Gresham/Barlow School District:
$150 million-$200 million
Centennial School District:
$65 million-$70 million
David Douglas School District:
Riverdale School District:
General-obligation bonds (could appear May 2008)
$10 million-$20 million
Alto Park Water District:
Replacement local-option levy
25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $50 on a house assessed at $200,000