The Metro Council met earlier this week to decide on the level of funding they'd like a proposed May 2013 levy to provide for operating and maintenance funds for open space the regional government owns.
The council voted unanimously on Tuesday set the rate at 9.6 cents per $1,000 of valuation. The levy would raise $10 million annually for five years. The owner of a $200,000 house, for example, would pay an extra $19.20 a year.
But if Metro moves forward with the levy, it will do so despite the objections of 19 mayors within Metro's three-county service area, including those in Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro and Lake Oswego—effectively every city of any size except Portland within Metro's boundaries.
Here is the letter the mayors sent Metro Council President Tom Hughes on Nov. 30:
Mike Houck, executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, and a longtime advocate for Metro's open spaces program, took issue with the mayors' letter.
November 30, 2012
RE: Metro Natural Area Levy
Dear President Hughes:
Please accept this letter into the record for consideration on your proposed Metro Natural Area Levy scheduled for a Metro Council meeting in December.
The Regional Mayors’ group met and discussed the Levy proposal at its meeting in November. Metro Council President Tom Hughes and COO, Martha Bennett were in attendance and discussed the proposed Levy.
Significant concerns were raised by the Mayors at that time and the group is unanimously requesting a delay in the Levy decision until further impacts to cities are evaluated. The current compression analysis was conducted using last year’s tax data and did not include the results of the tax measures passed in November (emphasis added).
As you are aware, some Metro area cities are more impacted by compression than others. As a result, the financial burden for the levy would not fall evenly on households and their communities across the region. Some cities would have their ability to raise revenue for vital police and fire protection services substantially limited as a result of having additional regional levies on the books.
In addition to concerns regarding compression, the plan for the remaining natural area’s bond purchases and impacts on long term maintenance needs are still unclear to our group. Without further information and clarity regarding the plan for past voter‐approved investments, it is hard for us to see the value in asking voters for additional resources.
We also feel that, preceding any discussions about future revenue for Metro, we would encourage the Metro elected officials to sit down early next year with local elected officials to review and discuss their respective governmental roles in the region; where are they aligned, and where is there conflict, potential or actual.
We believe that Metro can be helpful in a number of areas, but we remain concerned that those areas of assistance should be in partnership and coordination with local government.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide our input.
Jerry W. Willey, Mayor City of Hillsboro [and 18 others].
"Your letter would take us back to the 1980s when petty parochialism led to a lack of consensus on the importance of a regional approach to natural area parks and natural resource management," Houck wrote on Dec. 5. I have reviewed both the research conducted by Metro staff and heard how the levy will be spent. "The research regarding alleged fiscal impacts on local jurisdictions reveals that concerns over compression is clearly a red herring. Data demonstrates that compression is not an issue in many communities and that even in communities currently under compression the impacts are negligiblewith the exception of Portland and, ironically, Metro itself."
December 6, 2012
Dear Mayor Willey:
Thank you for your letter regarding Metro’s proposed natural areas levy. In 1995, and again in 2006, the region’s voters approved bonds to acquire and protect regional natural areas and open spaces.
Since then, Metro has acquired more than 12,000 acres of undeveloped land in order to protect water quality, wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreation opportunities for our region’s residents. Furthermore, the protection of these places is an essential component of our 2040 vision of preserving open space within our urban growth boundary. These natural areas, combined with our regional parks, make Metro the largest public landowner in the metropolitan area.
These investments are not without ongoing obligations and costs. Invasive species and trespassing, along with routine maintenance needs, create preservation challenges that cannot be supported by the bond program. Metro engaged with elected officials from around the region early on to discuss potential funding solutions. An independent advisory committee, with representatives from both the public and private sector, was convened in June 2012 to help guide Metro in moving forward with the maintenance of these regional assets. They unanimously recommended that the Metro Council refer a five-year levy to the region’s voters to restore and operate these parks and open spaces.
As you are well aware, local option levies are not a perfect solution. We agree our tax system needs reform and that the more than two dozen separate local governments in our region complicate the efficient collection and use of tax dollars for services that cross city and county jurisdictional boundaries.
We look forward to working with you and others to improve that system. While the impacts of compression are important, also important are the opinions of the voters. At every step of the way, they have affirmed that the protection of open spaces and habitat for fish and wildlife is a top priority.
We have an obligation to our region’s voters to make the most of these natural areas by removing invasive plants and investing in basic maintenance now. Acting today will reduce long term costs and improve opportunities to enjoy them for our entire community. Again, thank you for your feedback.