Thursday, November 25, 2004

The 'Complete Communities' talk-talk

Summary: 61% of the attendees who spoke their minds after the discussion, when asked by the county's contractor to comment, opposed both assimilation into other cities and the creation of a separate, new city, and 6% said they didn't have enough information. (Not a scientific survey; but any polling at that meeting would be by definition preselected - Ed. note.)

Elaine Cogan of Cogan Owens Cogan, a contractor to Clackamas County who organized this presentation and meeting, opened the formal presentation Monday night, 2004-11-22, at Alder Creek Middle School on SE Webster. She and her firm are paid 105 kilobucks by the county to facilitate a further discussion of what should be the 'governance options' for the next 10-20 years. County Commissioner Bill Kennemer followed, noting the county commission started asking five years ago how to manage growth & change to maintain livability, and added recommendations from this process will be voted on by the commission.

Commissioner Martha Schrader was followed by Commissioner Larry Sowa, who noted Colton rejected such discussions recently, paraphrasing their remarks: "Go away, we don't want to hear about (more government) any more." Sowa added the 90,000 people in the area (which he subsequently defined as reaching out to the borders of Happy Valley) would be largest city in Clackamas county if incorporated into one new city.

Jonathan Mantay, County Administrator, said the county's finances are subject to the mercy, of lack thereof, of the Oregon Legislature.

He then referred to a recent study in which county residents scored the county high in the quality of services if provides, but some people still want more. He referred to code enforcement, stating the county now acts on only the top four issues, and does not respond to lower priority types of issues (without specifying what is and is not important at present, a troubling lack of specificity in this context - Ed. note).

Street maintenance costs the county about 7 kilobucks per mile, spending about a megabuck each year in the area of Oak Lodge, Jennings Lodge and North Clackamas, reaching out to 82nd Drive (excluding Johnson City), a different area than that referred to my Commissioner Sowa, but the same as used by other persons and by the maps shown in this discussion.

The state will provide our county's budgets with about 710 megabucks, but with many restrictions and cutbacks. He's concerned about the impact on welfare, a potential billion dollar issue which won't be discussed tonight.

Ray Bartlett, another county contractor in economics & financial analysis, then discussed the 630 acre target area of Oak Lodge, North Clackamas, and Jennings Lodge, sans Johnson City, which he noted is diverse, with a population of 36,300 within 15,000 dwellings. The assessed value of the taxable real estate in the target area is 2,172 megabucks.

He noted the current nearby cities' tax rates are, per kilobuck of assessed value:

4.8174 in Gladstone
5.0571 in Oregon City*, and
6.5379 in Milwaukie.

*(Yet, despite that assessment, Oregon City's in severe financial straits. The Oregonian reported on November 3, 2004:
Oregon City can no longer cover the cost of the services it provides, and its police department is understaffed. Without increased revenue, the city may have to eliminate popular programs such as the library, swimming pool or Carnegie Center, a city-run arts program.
- Ed. note.)

He then explored what kind of budget a new 'No Name City' could have, with the assumption (and a very attractive assumption - Ed. note) that the revenue sources would be limited to be no greater than taxes currently paid by the residents (a "zero-sum" proposal - Ed. note), or a tax rate of $0.5724 per kilobuck of assessed value.

The difference in Clackamas County between unincorporated areas & our cities is 0.5724/kilobuck plus the county's tax rate of $2.40/kilobuck. What could be done with $0.5724/kilobuck?

He then sidetracked to discuss 'revenue sources' for cities (i.e., who we take money from to pay for all this - Ed. note).

1. Oregon's motor fuel, alcohol & tobacco taxes are shared only with cities, not with counties. This is somewhat, but not completely, proportional to population; the state can (and does - Ed. note) vary the yield by legislation using other criteria besides population.

2. Cities may (and do) have property tax, and use a permanent tax rate set at their incorporation, thereafter capped by M48 to rise at no more than three percent yearly without special circumstances.

3. Cities may ask for special levies, or 'term' taxes, like the recently failed library levy. They may borrow by selling general obligation bonds, which take from future taxpayers to pay for money spent today. They can bill property owners and renters indirectly through franchise fees on utilities, which the utility collects and then pays to the city, and the city may also charge fees, fines & service charges.

The model 'zero-sum' or 'revenue-neutral' budget he presented had revenue (shown in kilobucks) of
2,237 state-shared revenue

1,213 from property tax (using a hypothetical 'zero-sum' rate of $0.5724/kilobuck of assessed value)

2,008 franchise fees at an average tax rate of 3.5 percent*

300 development fees (charging for the administration of land use and zoning regulation), and

288 other fees & collections, primarily court-levied fines (including traffic tickets) and fees from a municipal court (fees set roughly to equal the cost of court operations)

6,046 total estimated revenue

* (This demonstrates the proposal is not a 'zero-sum', or 'revenue-neutral' budget, for at present the only franchise fee in the county is 3 percent on cable TV, and there are no franchise fee trickle-down taxes on other services. The proposal included adding taxes on electric, gas, telephone and other utilities, a hidden tax which will hit fixed-income seniors the hardest - Ed. note.)

Next, he outlined the proposed estimate of expenditure for such a city, which would not include fire and EMS, storm water and sewer drains and processing, parks & recreations, and other services (mosquito and other vector control? urban renewal district? - Ed. note) handled by and taxed by existing districts.

1,821 Street Maintenance (keeping up the streets we now have, and thereby justify the state taking tax money from other cities and giving it to us- Ed. note)

1,213 Law Enforcement (Hire, train, maintain & administer a police force and pay for their pensions, the latter which has proven very expensive to Portland- Ed. note)

1,077 Administration & finance (including payback of bonds- Ed. note)

570 Planning & zoning (deciding what people can build, where- Ed. note) and code enforcement

288 Municipal court, for traffic violations (so the city could keeps its speeding ticket revenue- Ed. note) and other fines

205 City attorney (with many services contracted out to local law firms- Ed. note)

5,174 total estimated expenditures

872 less than taking in, would be reserved for unanticipated needs. (Cities with cash on hand get better bond ratings and borrow money at lower rates. Does this suggest a city would quickly move to asking for bond measures, and therefore talk the public into additional taxes to pay back those bonds? - Ed. note)

John Hartsock of the new Damascus City Council then talked about creating the City of Damascus. It took three years, and was quite a ride.

Metro was going to move the Urban Growth Boundary (a unique feature of Oregon law which draws a line and restricts development outside it - Ed. note) so he and others formed a 'Committee for the Future of Damascus', which morphed into an incorporation campaign. It was successful, creating Oregon's newest city (Keizer, the last most recently created city, was incorporated 22 years ago).

A major issue to Damascus is maintaining its country feel. Metro will force growth from 10,000 people today to 60,000 in 20 years' time.

The citizen's committee did financial forecasts for the state, and asked what services should be provided at what levels. M50 gives one free shot at the tax base, and once that millage rate is established, its growth is limited (except under special circumstances - Ed. note) to three percent annually, (so it takes 24 years for the tax rate to double, following the Rule of 72 - Ed. note).

Happy Valley did not include police service in its general budget, so their police depends on a levy which must be renewed every several years. (Gladstone, although he did not note it, also has a supplemental levy for police services - Ed. note). If the levy at renewal is defeated, how will they pay for police? (Everyplace else this occurs, the city cuts other services to comply with the will of the people. It's called democracy. - Ed. note).

Damascus adopted a $3.88 per kilobuck rate, comparable to the millage rates of Gresham & Sandy. Their budget includes Parks & Recreation, and a library, which they didn't have before.

Gresham, with a similar tax rate, is struggling, and contemplates moving fire protection to a separate district. Moving that service out of the city budget will effectively raise the tax rate by $2 per kilobuck.

Damascus set aside the state tax share for future development, and does not rely on it for its general fund budget.

When the Damascus incorporation campaign began, polling showed 67 percent support, which dropped to 48 percent near the election, but providing more information stressing the advantages of local control countered the slide in support. There were only 2 negative letters to the editor. With 92 percent turnout in the election, 65 percent voted yes.

A break followed, then Elaine Cogan started reading selected questions from those submitted by the attending citizenry. She asked Jonathan, if unincorporated areas don't want in, can they be forced? He replied no.

Someone asked about townships and other government structures besides cities? He replied villages & hamlets are OK in Oregon, but townships, popular back east, are not a feature of Oregon law.

A query about adding the state route 212/224 area and its industrial area, but Happy Valley is also avidly interested in adding that high-tax-yield real estate to its tax base. A multi-city discussing with the contribution of PSU expertise is underway (There are previous agreements regarding cities and what they can assimilate - Ed. note).

Why was the boundary of the target area (I'm getting tired of the phrase 'target area' and henceforth will refer to it as No Name City - Ed. note) set as 205? Answer: The Community Panel on Boundaries preferred it.

It was then noted the Complete Communities project was started by a citizen's committee from Oak Grove area who applied to County Commission for approval and funding.

Ray Bartlett was asked how can the base tax millage rate be changed. He replied so far, the only success was when a city dropped out of a fire district and took over fire protection itself.

(At this point, I was interrupted by a Disaster Action Team pager going off, and missed at least three minutes of discussion - Ed. note)

Demands on city budgets will change because of unforeseen events- (so a special assessment could be submitted for vote and added if the voters it needful- Ed. note) & state and federal revenue sources also change. Cities' funding are not stable and constant.

Cable TV is the county's only franchise fee source now. Telephone, cellular, gas, electric, garbage and other utilities are not taxed for the 100,000 people now in the unincorporated county.

Local Improvement Districts can be added, as can citywide or smaller urban renewal districts.

The county would like a new city to take over a library, but that's a city decision.

Road maintenance districts can be set up in lieu of a city and its road department, but it's unknown if it could get any state-shared revenues for it.

Small group discussions then began, with three to eight people being led by a facilitator at each table. My facilitator, a Portlander, did not identify her employment, affiliation or interests.

She asked to folks at my table to start with identifying the pluses and minuses of some the different structures previously mentioned: The status quo, becoming assimilated by Gladstone or Milwaukie, or incorporating No Name City. (Other options permitted by Oregon law, such as hamlets, local improvement districts and villages, were not included - Ed. note)

1. Status quo
+ CCSO very professional now with extensive training.
+ Sheriff's Enhanced Service patrols will improve with better response under a new civilian oversight committee.
+ taxes stay low
+ Keep diversity of broader tax base with greater diversity. Commercial property elsewhere in the county yields much more revenue than the residential property which predominates No Name City.
+ Clackamas County Fire District No. 1 could increase the millage rate for coverage, over the present low rate, in negotiations with a new No Name City. The current rate is low.
- Roads, won't have state funds for them.
- Cities have better police response (disputed).

2. Annexation
+ No cost to establish new city.
+ More government means more accountability.
- Small towns are not as competent and would not have the skill base the County has.
- We're not going to see much improvement in services, given the high ratings the county gets.
- Disruption of services are likely as the result of forced rapid growth of present city administration.
- Cost to expand existing administration
- Tax hike of 39 percent if assimilated by Milwaukie.
- Tax hike of 17.6 percent if assimilated by Gladstone.
- No Name City residents don't know city governments, but know the county government and departments.
- Gladstone for a while allowed Houston-style unzoned growth, and the result is not attractive.

3. Incorporation
+ There might be better local access to a city government.
+ No Name City would get the estimated 2,237 kilobucks per year in state shared revenue.
- Other cities (Oregon City, forex) are in financial trouble despite higher taxation than proposed here.
- no way to avoid additional taxes - and the $.57 per kilobuck 'zero-sum' tax budget was disingenuous, since several of the invited speakers advocated taxing more at the onset, and several Clackamas cities can't sem to live on much more than that.
- We can chose more services and tax ourselves for it through Local Improvement Districts, with the same local control.
- It's just shifting cost from the county.
- We'd lose economies of scale on procurement, as the county gets better prices for services and merchandise because it buys in volume.
- More micromangement because there will be more layers of government.
- More cost of administration because there will be more layers of government.
- Less law enforcement; the Clackamas Review documented the low staffing levels of Milwaukie's PD, and would No Name City be any better?
- We're not going to see much improvement in services, given the high ratings the county gets,
- The model budget adds more taxes in franchise fees which will trickle down to the public to pay.

The out-of-town moderator then proposed the group speculate on what new services could be added (which, without considering the cost of them, encourages a fantasy mindset - Ed. note):
Library (Have already - Ed. note)

Police (Have from CCSO, with 11 officers on patrol, and more soon- Ed. note)

Zoning enforcement (Have already - Ed. note)

Planning (but any changes in land use which would impact property owners, we we'd have to pay for under M37 - Ed. note)

Sounding board for community (Have already, with Clackamas League of Women Voters and other volunteer groups, plus Internet forums such as Clackablog - Ed. note)

Funding the arts (We could put a windmill on top of the county building, just like Multnomah County with arts money. - Ed. note)

Welfare and social services (Yes, we could increase welfare services. Why would we wish to? - Ed. note)

Walking trails (for the 5 (sic?) pct of folks who use them - Ed. note)
Time was called, and several tables were called on to comment. From those which did comment, (a self-selected group, and therefore not a statistically designed poll) the votes were:
61% Keep things as they are: No new city, no assimilation into other cities
32% Create No Name City through incorporation
6% Don't have enough information
0 Be assimilated by Milwaukie
0 Be assimilated by Gladstone

(This vote echoes the community-wide decisions of 1981 and 1995, and the scientifically selected phone survey conducted this year: NO - Ed. note)

The final results of the forum, answers to written questionnaires and the scientific poll will be discussed at the seventh and final Task Force meeting of the Conversation with the Citizens of Oak Grove, Jennings Lodge and North Clackamas County. That is scheduled for Monday, December 6, 2004, 6:30 – 9 pm, Rose Villa, 13505 SE River Road.

If you have any questions, call Elaine Cogan, Steve Faust or Kirstin Greene at 503-225-0192. For more information or to view meeting materials, visit the project Web site.

[Reference links]

Most recent meeting minutes from the Completing Connections Task Force.

Handouts from the Completing Connections Task Force meeting on 2004-11-22 (PDF format: Requires Adobe Acrobat reader, free for download from here).

The questionnaire from the Completing Connections Task Force meeting on 2004-11-22

1995's The Story of a Neighborhood That Fought Metro, Randal O'Toole's memoir of our last visit from the urbanizing carbetbaggers.

foldedspace, another Oak Grove blog, reports on the same meeting.

The Gospel of No Name City, another Oregon icon

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