By John Bowler
Do Crooked River Ranchers get a good return on property tax dollars they pay to Jefferson County? There have been two schools of thought for years at the Ranch. Naturally, one group thinks they do and the other thinks they don't.
Less attention is paid to taxes assessed for specific services like special road district, fire department, school districts and the like. It's indirect services funded by the county general fund that Ranchers seem concerned about such as commissioners and administration, county clerk, health and human services, animal control etc.
CRR Association board director Paul Nemitz revived this issue in a memo last November which triggered studies by Ranch treasurer George Trahern and county Administrator Jeff Rasmussen. They concluded:
1. Ranch population estimated at 4,300 is roughly 23 percent of the Jefferson County population of 18,193, which does not include Warm Springs residents who are exempted from county property taxes.
2. Ranch property tax contribution to the general fund in 2007 was 17.2 percent of the total county taxes collected.
The county also collects two types of system development charges on new construction at the Ranch -- roads and parks -- and keeps them in separate accounts.
According to Rasmussen, the CRR roads SDC fund collected $8,735 by January 2008. In 2006, the county loaned $55,320 to this fund to chip seal various roads (Southwest Cinder and Southwest Shad) in CRR. Scheduled annual loan payment is $18,440 per year for three years.
The CRR parks SDC fund collected $1,915 in the same period. In 2007, the county loaned $50,000 to this fund to be paid back over seven years beginning the current fiscal year. This loan purchased playground equipment, irrigation and trees at Panorama Park. The annual payment is $8,200.
The amount of revenue for both these funds this year will not cover the loan payments, but CRR cannot be charged for the shortfall of payments for either loan and the county will absorb the cost of delay in payments.
County roads Superintendent Mike McHaney said his roads department "crack sealed all 12 miles of CRR county roads in 2007 out of my department's budget." The department receives funds from gas taxes paid by Ranchers who have their vehicles registered in Jefferson County.
"We spend about $250,000 per year maintaining those 12 miles, which is about what we collect from the Ranch gas taxes," McHaney said. "We all would benefit if Ranchers would check to make sure their vehicles are registered in Jefferson County. There's a bunch of them that are not; it's a statewide snafu."
"Those 12 CRR miles of county roads are in the best shape of any roads in the county system," he said.
The commissioners entertain many requests for funds and often respond with significant contributions. Some of the contributions made to Ranch entities that come out of funds not supported by taxes Ranchers pay are:
1. $10,000 annually to support the CRR Chamber of Commerce;
2. $4,680 annual support of the CRR Seniors' Ride-A-Van;
3. Miscellaneous grants to the seniors of $656 for repairs in 2006 and $988 for chairs in 2007; and
4. $1,000 to light the "Welcome to CRR" sign in 2006.
That's a general gauge of what Ranch taxpayers receive from Jefferson County, gathered from contacts with several county departments, the commissioners and Ranch board members.
Regarding service provided by the sheriff's office, Sheriff Jack Jones noted, "A lot of service has costs difficult to quantify, like patrol time that is not assigned to a case or civil service."
"It also depends on which time frame is measured," he continued. "For instance, during the (Crooked) fire, almost the whole staff was on site. There's a cost to have 24-hour, 365-day service available if needed."
Three CRR residents who served on the county budget committee a cumulative total of the last 15 years -- John Bowler, Lexus Johnson and the late Kitty Pullen -- all have attested that Ranchers receive good value for county taxes they pay.
Ranchers with specific tax questions can address them to the commissioners office, 475-2449.
New CRR library fee
Sally Beesley, Jefferson County Library director, appeared at the Crooked River Ranch Association Board meeting Monday, March 17.
She suggested that CRR residents who currently are members of the Deschutes Public Library District through the Redmond Library, who do not live within the Jefferson County Library District, pay the county nonresident annual library fee of $45 per household if they want to avail themselves of library services.
Because of a reciprocal agreement between Deschutes and Jefferson County library districts, Ranchers who pay that fee would thereby continue to have access to Deschutes County library services.
The 574 CRR residents in the north end of the Ranch who pay an annual library tax are not affected by this agreement, nor are the 216 residents living in Deschutes County who pay an annual library tax.
All parties agree this is a temporary fix to correct a problem that has negatively impacted both library districts for several years. In an interview March 16, the Redmond Library general manager, Todd Dunkleberg, said the negative impact of 810 CRR-based nonlibrary-tax-paying members had reached proportions the district could no longer tolerate and had to be corrected without delay.
This solution appears to satisfy all parties involved.
Beesley said she would work with Jefferson County and CRR officials to devise a longer range solution which might eventually involve a vote to expand the Jefferson County Library District boundaries to include more of the Ranch, but plans are indefinite. For more information, call 475-3351.