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Another public safety tax vote likely in Beaverton

City Council leans toward asking voters to extend tax bills for safer police, emergency building

The Beaverton City Council appears poised to go back to voters in November to ask for money to build a public safety building that would be able to withstand a massive earthquake.

But this time, they hope that their plan to pay for the $35 million facility will be easier for the public to swallow.

The tentative plan, laid out by staff at Tuesday’s Council meeting, is to seek voter approval to continue levying 20 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation. That’s the amount residents most recently have been taxed to finish paying off construction of the Beaverton City Library.

Instead of reviving a previous plan to retrofit the current police department (the former Beaverton City Hall) on Southwest Griffith Drive, the concept is to build a new, smaller facility at the site of the Beaverton Activities Center at the intersection of Southwest Hall and Allen boulevards.

That site, the city’s old library, is centrally located for service and already owned by the city, said Beaverton Police Capt. James Monger.

The property tax cost for the owner of an average home in Beaverton would be about $45 per year and would gradually rise (or fall) with assessed property values, which typically are well under market values.

Without voter approval of the new proposal, the library bonds would be paid off in another two years and that expense would fall off tax bills.

The current tax rate repaying library construction has been cut in half over the years as property values increased, but under the new proposal, the rate would freeze for 20 years to pay off the issued bonds.

The city also would have to come up with some general fund tax dollars to cover a share of construction costs not fully covered by bond issues, especially in the first two years when that tax revenue would be split between paying off the final library debt and beginning to pay for the public safety building.

The amount of extra money needed would depend on the bond market and property value fluctuation, said Patrick O’Claire, the city’s finance director.

A conservative high-end estimate would require tapping $7.8 million to fill the gap that otherwise would go to different city expenses, he added.

About 53 percent of voters said no to a 2014 bond request to upgrade the current police headquarters, but that was a more expensive and more confusing proposition than asking voters to continue their current tax rate for city buildings.

The proposed building would house police and emergency management personnel, both considered essential services in the event of a crippling earthquake or other catastrophe.

Unlike earlier plans at Griffith Drive, which already was known to be inadequately built for an earthquake in the 9.0 range (and has also been included inside a redrawn flood plain), the new building would not include non-emergency uses such as the municipal court. The court may remain at Griffith Drive if the city retains ownership there.

Staff and public members of a resuscitated Public Safety Advisory Committee considered other funding alternatives, including tacking a $1.60 monthly fee to utility bills or again asking voters for an increased tax rate. But city officials, still wary after the 2014 defeat, decided that extending the current rate was the best option.

Council members had questions they want answered, but most seemed to be on board with the overall plan.

“We need to make sure our first responders can respond,” Mark Fagin said. “I think going in November is a good idea.”

“I don’t think we have any time to waste,” agreed Lacey Beaty.

Bette Bode, however, bluntly questioned the wisdom of going back to voters for money without pledging to sell off the Griffith Drive building to help pay for it.

“That will be much more tax-friendly,” she said.

Other Council members and Mayor Denny Doyle responded that costs of moving the municipal court and other city functions, including its data center, likely would be more costly than keeping the Griffith Park location for non-emergency uses.

City staff agreed to further evaluate options for keeping or selling the Griffith Drive property.

Bode also criticized spreading city services out to more locations, especially after City Hall moved to The Beaverton Building at the Round two years ago. The city has room for future expansion into two leased floors there, but the structure is not built to safety standards for emergency facilities and perhaps not adequate for a municipal court.

“Where the hell is Beaverton?” Bode asked.

O’Claire said city officials still need to explore with bond experts how a measure that overlaps payments for two buildings might be structured.

“This is new territory for us,” he said.

But staffers will have to draft fast: The Council needs to vote in June to place the measure on this November’s ballot.