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Clackamas County gets $20M light-rail loan

Clackamas County officials say that taxpayers received about as good a deal on funding a $19.9 million payment to the light-rail project with this week’s loan as would have been obtained before canceling a bond sale.

Through a 20-year Bank of America loan at 2.74 percent interest, the county on Friday secured a “historically low” rate. The county can refinance at anytime before it’s required to make balloon payment in 15 years.

Dan Chandler, strategic policy administrator for the county, said that the financial terms of last week’s cancelled bond sale would have fetched “almost identical” rates as the loan, slightly higher than $20 million with closing costs.

“The rates were good and the costs were good,” Chandler said. “We looked at all options to try to figure out what would be the best deal, and Bank of America made a really good offer.”

Commissioners authorized the payment on Aug. 22 with a 3-1 vote on a renegotiated agreement that reduced the county’s payment obligation from $25 million in consideration of in-kind property and time that the county had contributed. TriMet had agreed to public-safety and aesthetic changes to the project that the county had requested.

The Oregon Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal of a temporary restraining order that prohibited Clackamas County from seeking financing to fulfill its obligation. Thelma Haggenmiller's appeal followed a series of lower-court actions seeking to halt the financing effort.

“The Supreme Court granted a temporary stay to look at it for a few days, and then they said we were legally free to move forward,” Chandler said.

Jim Knapp, the Oak Grove resident who began the drive for Measure 3-401 on the Sept. 18 special election ballot to block local funding for TriMet’s $1.49 billion light-rail project, said his group would seek another mechanism to reject the payment. Knapp has begun gathering signatures for a referendum against Clackamas County’s Aug. 22 decision to pay TriMet for its promised share of funding light rail.

“They’ve sneaked around with their backdoor politics and they blindsided the citizens of Clackamas County by not letting them vote before making this payment,” Knapp said. “We’re getting another project we don’t want with money we don’t really have.”

Chandler said that neither vote would have any effect on the payment.

“Our legal advice has told us repeatedly the petition would have no effect on the obligation or any financing,” he said.

Chandler said there are a number of minor obligations that remain for the county on an ongoing basis. Clackamas County also has a couple of property transactions to be completed near the Trolley Trail along the line, he said.