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Realtors look for clout in local politics

A committee is formed to promote property rights, free enterprise and growth in Jefferson County
News Editor
   A group of local Realtors has formed a grass-roots consortium hoping to keep an eye on county and city affairs and boost the members' political clout.
   With Jefferson County possessing a reputation as one of the most restrictive counties in Oregon when it comes to land use, some in the local real estate business feel their concerns are not being addressed.
   Sharron Brackett, part-owner of Midland Realty, said the political action committee is being mobilized partly because homeowners and businesses look beyond Jefferson County.
   "We're seeing trends of people going outside of the county for the kinds of property they want because our county has chosen to be so restrictive," she said. "We're losing industry and when we lose industry, we lose jobs. And when we lose jobs, we lose residents. And when we lose residents, we lose tax income."
   Mark Hodgins, director of political affairs for the Oregon Association of Realtors, said he is assisting the group in its effort to become more "politically savvy."
   "They realize that they need to be more involved politically for the betterment of the community," Hodgins said. "They certainly have the ability to monitor what's going on there."
   Gloria Morton, co-owner of F&G Properties, said the group intends to keep an eye on where Madras and the county are headed so they have a voice.
   "We don't want to react to what they do, we want to be pro-active," said Morton, who applied to be on the Madras Planning Commission but was told it could be a conflict of interest because her husband, Frank, is a city councilor.
   Although the political action committee is in its early stages of identifying goals, some issues already have been identified.
   A Metolius ordinance, for example, has required Realtors to have a business license if they own, buy or sell property in the city -- an expense Realtors say they have to pass on to residents and home buyers.
   And despite recently passed revisions to the county's zoning ordinances that ease restrictions for homes in exclusive farm-use zones, some say it wasn't enough because the county commissioners didn't adopt a section of House Bill 3326 that would have made more lots developable.
   "Our county has chosen to be more restrictive than the state allows," Brackett said. "And people are choosing to live in Deschutes County because we are not allowed to offer them the size of lots they are looking for."
   Jefferson County Commissioner Bill Bellamy, a Realtor himself, said pro-growth advocates have been missing from the local political scene and are typically absent when land-use issues come up in a public forum. He said the farming community against growth has dominated the public hearing scene.
   "The zoning ordinance we just passed was the first policy issue that was allowed to get to the county commission in 15 years," he said. "The no-growthers have used the system to prevent the commissioners from ever setting the policy."
   The grass-roots group is mobilizing at a time when the purchase of homes is a buyers' market. Interest rates are low, and multiple listing service numbers are high in the county -- hovering around the 150 mark.
   The sale of homes increased only slightly in 2001 compared with 2000 numbers, from 660 to 672. But astute homeowners took advantage of low interest rates as 898 homes were refinanced in 2001 compared with 643 in 2000.
   Morton characterized her business as slow but noted the events of Sept. 11 affected sales.
   "We haven't truly had any new homeowners, just people changing where they're living," Morton said. "I can't say we are having a large influx of new people. For a while there we did but now people are just moving around town."
   Dick Dodson of Coldwell Banker said people need not fear proponents of property rights, home ownership and free enterprise.
   "Growth is good," Dodson said. "If a community is not growing, it's dying."