The issue of whether East County's three smallest cities should merge into one was broached Wednesday when incoming Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler spoke in Gresham.

Wheeler, who was addressing a coalition of local business groups, questioned whether the cities of Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village are 'sustainable business models,' and if they can survive as independent municipalities. He later clarified in an interview with The Outlook that he wasn't suggesting a merger, but was attempting to encourage the three cities to work together to deliver services more efficiently.

We appreciate Wheeler's concern for the long-term prospects of East County's cities, and we would point out that the best way to maintain the three cities' budgets would be for the county to continue sharing its business-income tax revenue.

However, we also are compelled to note that, when it comes to efficiencies, the cities in East County are model service providers - especially when compared with the city of Portland or Multnomah County. Citizens in East County pay less than half as much in city property taxes as do residents of Portland. And they pay much less in city taxes than they do in county taxes.

One way that the cities have been able to operate with such low tax rates is by working together. Areas of cooperation already include: fire service, sewage treatment, building inspections, joint planning, economic development, 9-1-1 service (through Portland) and Wood Village police service (through the county.)

It's true that the cities might find even more efficiencies if they keep working toward that goal. But at present, they are light years ahead of either Portland or the county in their ability to meet citizens' basic service needs at the lowest possible cost. We hope that the county, under Wheeler's leadership, will look at East County's cities for examples of how county services can be provided more cheaply through cooperation with other jurisdictions.

Local Tax Rates

These are the total property-tax rates that cities and the county charged for the 2005-06 fiscal year. These rates are levied for each $1,000 of assessed property value:

Portland: $7.92

Multnomah County: $5.30

Gresham: $3.80

Troutdale: $4.55

Fairview: $3.49

Wood Village: $3.13

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