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A comprehensive look at public finance – what will it look like if all five tax measures pass this November?

by: VERN UYETAKE,

Lake Oswego residents will have to get ready for some heftier bills next year regardless of how they vote in the November election.

With the looming state mandate to get the city sewer project off the ground, it looks like the cost of living in Lake Oswego will rise with or without voter approval. Utility rates are going up across the board. City utility rates will rise an average of 9.9 percent over the next eight years, and private utility companies (see related story, page A16) are increasing their rates as well.

For those increases that need to go to the ballot, taxes would increase by approximately 87 cents per $1,000 assessed value on property tax bills if they all pass. Lake Oswego residents are already paying about $17 per $1,000 in assessed value or $5,100 for a home assessed at $300,000. They would pay $5,442 beginning in the 2009-10 fiscal year if everything passes (see chart on page A16).

Either way, residents will see their water bills start climbing next year. The increase is due in part to funding for a new buoyant pipe in Oswego Lake to replace a failing sewer system.

The city recently agreed to upgrades on the city's water utility that will add to that spike. Ratepayers who currently receive a water bill averaging $128 every two months will be paying nearly twice that by 2015. Rates have been rising at a rate of about 4.9 percent over the last eight years, and the biggest spike will come in 2009-2010 with a 14.8 percent increase in utility rates (see chart on page A16). A partnership with Tigard saves Lake Oswego ratepayers an extra $25 million in capital costs to upgrade the utility.

Residents who head to the polls this year will have the inevitable increase of utilities to weigh against five bond or levy measures from Lake Oswego School District, Clackamas County, Metro and Portland Community College. Only one - from the school district - is a renewal levy, meaning the cost wouldn't be any more than residents are already paying. Here's a look at what voters face:

Lake Oswego School District

LOSD is asking for voters to renew a levy that would continue in 2010 and run through 2015. A total of 12 percent of the school district's budget rests on voter's checking 'yes.' The current levy, which has been in place since 2000, will put $6.8 million in the district's accounts for the 2008-2009 year. It passed in November 2004 with 53 percent of voters in favor. The district will keep the same rate of $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The school district will also be retiring a debt in June 2010 - currently 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value - from the 1990 Oak Creek Elementary construction, so the total tax burden attributed to the district will actually decrease.

'We're feeling cautiously positive,' said Teri Olerich, chair of the Supporters of Lake Oswego Schools. 'We're concerned at the economy but given it's for schools, and it's for the future of the community we feel the voters will support it.'

Olerich was out canvassing Saturday along with high school students from both sides of the lake.

'We want everyone to know what the issues are and how big of a piece of the school district this is,' she said.

Clackamas County

Additionally, Clackamas County is asking for approval of two new districts, one for county library service and one for extension services.

Both districts lost their primary funding when the federal government decided to stop sending timber payments to the county - a $12.5 million cut. It represented about nine percent of the county's general fund, the bulk of which - 74 percent - is for law enforcement.

In a surprising turn of events, last week's $700 billion bailout reinstated the county's timber payments for the next four years.

'It's a wild card that's come in at the last moment,' said Commissioner Bill Kennemer. 'But it doesn't really solve the fundamental problem. While they're reinstated, they're not reinstated in full force and they're on a glide scale for five years.'

The county has been working on a plan for the two districts for the last two years.

'We are in the process of trying to figure this out,' said Kennemer. 'We don't even know what all of our options are.'

The commissioners will likely discuss it at their next public meeting.

A new library district would generate $11.8 million for libraries, a number commissioners chose because it would allow all county libraries to reach the Oregon Library Association's standards for size and circulation.

If the district passes, the funds that were scheduled for libraries from now through 2014 will be distributed to Clackamas' cities. Each city will receive $1 million, with recipient cities staggered over a five-year span. County officials said this will allow the cities to expand facilities and services to accommodate larger service populations. The annual distribution formula would give each city a set amount of the money based on the population in its service area. Currently, the county provides 30 percent of the Lake Oswego Library funding.

'It impacts us financially, but we are in a link with all 13 libraries,' said Colleen Bennett, president of Friends of Lake Oswego Library.

The library gets 20,000 books a year from other Clackamas County libraries.

'People sometimes don't realize the conection to the county. When other libraries close within the county, that also impacts Lake Oswego.

Under the library district plan, other libraries will be consolidated into larger facilities or relocated if the plan passes.

If the levy fails, the Oak Lodge, Clackamas Town Center and Hoodland libraries close with no replacements to be built, and the $8.2 million that the county annually doles out to libraries evaporates by 2014.

The Clackamas County branch of the Oregon State University Extension Services, if passed, would levy a tax of five cents per $1,000 of assessed property tax value and would include all of Clackamas County except Johnson City.

The new service district for extension services would include 4-H and the Master Gardener's Program and provide support for the agriculture industry.

The new district would generate about $1.5 million per year. The service currently operates on a budget of about $400,000 to $450,000, said Extension Services Director Mike Bondi, a Lake Oswego resident, but the increase will help it keep up with growth.

Portland Community College

And in addition to the county measures, voters in the greater Portland area face two other money measures: The Portland Community College bonds and a local option levy for Metro to update the Oregon Zoo.

The PCC 20-year bond would add 32.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to property tax bills across the five-county district and would pay for construction of a new facility in Sherwood and upgrade the college's Southeast and Willow Creek centers to something more akin to full-blown campuses.

PCC's last construction project was a renovation of Northeast Portland's Cascade campus, completed a year and a half ago. Since then, demand for better lab space and more classrooms has overwhelmed college officials, according to Dana Haynes, PCC spokesman.

'We've really been suffering from insufficient technology in labs,' Haynes said.

The college's limited classroom space limits the number of students who can be admitted to PCC each year.

PCC struggled to pass a similar construction bond between 1998 and 2000. Its last construction bond was valued at 13.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, less than half of the current money measure, and it failed twice at the polls.

In November 1998, it lost by 8,000 votes, with Washington County voters resoundingly voting against it.

The college resurrected the measure the next year in May, when it failed to meet turnout requirements. The levy passed on the third try in November 2000.

None of those campaigns were as well-financed as this effort.

Metro

And lastly, Lake Oswego residents will cast votes that determine whether or not animals at the zoo get better, cleaner facilities. With 50 years at its current site and many of the original facilities still in place, the Oregon Zoo needs improvements, and Metro is asking voters to support a $125 million bond.

The money will go toward updating out-of-date facilities, expanding the overall area for some animals, continuing programs to breed threatened species and increasing conservation efforts.

'We've identified some really … important needs that we can't do out of pocket,' said former Metro Councilor Brian Newman, a Lake Oswego resident who is involved in the campaign while working as director of campus planning and development for Oregon Health and Science University. 'There are several (exhibits) that we want to update because … frankly it's an embarrassment.'

According to Metro, the measure focuses on five areas: Updating four undersized enclosures with larger, more natural and safer spaces; modernizing the zoo's substandard 45-year-old animal clinic; increasing access to conservation education by providing more space for summer camps, classes and hands-on learning; improving water quality by replacing the 1950s-era sewer system and conserving and reusing water by installing water recycling filtration systems.

Lake Oswego School District

Five-year local option levy renewal

Operating expenses to maintain teaching positions and current programs

$1.39 per $1,000 of assessed value

Clackamas County - Library District

Permanent property tax

Establish a countywide library service district

$0.3974 per $1000 assessed value

Clackamas County - Extension District

Permanent property tax

Establish agricultural extension district for local farms, forests, food, 4-H

$0.05 per $1000 assessed value

Portland Community College

General obligation bonds, 21 years

Update, expand local educational facilities

32.9 cents per $1,000 assessed value ($374,000,000 total)

Metro

General obligation bonds, 21 years

Protect animal health and safety; conserve and recycle water

Estimated $.09 per $1,000 of assessed value ($125 million total)

SIDEBAR:

Residents of Lake Oswego may not live in Clackamas County or residents of the Lake Oswego School District may actually live in Portland. Here are a few measures from those corners of the Lake Oswego community who may not live within the same political boundaries as the average community member.

To see a more detailed description of the ballot measures online visit Multnomah County's Web site at www.mcelections.org/2008-11/measure_list.shtml or Washington County's Web site at www.co.washington.or.us/deptmts/at/election/nov08/filnov08.htm .

City of Portland

Five-year local option levy renewal

Children's Investment Fund for child abuse prevention, foster children, early childhood and after school programs

$.4026 per $1,000 of assessed value (estimated $14 million)

Riverdale School District

General obligation bonds, 31 years

Improve safety and upgrade, renovate and replace school facilities

Estimated $1.19 per $1,000 of assessed value ($21,500,000 total)

Riverdale Fire District

Five-year local option levy renewal

Contract costs for emergency and medical services

$.43 per $1,000 of assessed value (estimated $1.3 million total)

Washington County

General obligation bonds, 30 years

Exhibition, event, consumer show, entertainment facilities

Estimated $.06 per $1000 of assessed value ($44 million total)

Community Newspaper reporters Lee van der Voo, Anthony Roberts, Christian Gaston and Matthew Graham contributed to this article.