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Light rail headed back to the ballot

Clackamas County’s new political balance and voters’ demand this past September to weigh in on public-rail projects mean taxpayers will probably have to pay for ballot questions and potential litigation.

Clackamas County commissioners voted unanimously last week to move forward with asking voters about county obligations to the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project.

TriMet’s project will cost $1.49 billion, and Clackamas County has already contributed its promised $25 million share. But the Sept. 18 vote on Measure 3-401, which passed by a 3-to-2 margin, will send issues of signed intergovernmental agreements to voters.

The $1.28 million contribution from Clackamas County’s road fund, a continuing-control agreement with TriMet and two small parcels needed for the rail line could be up in the air. The votes will cost between about $30,000 and $34,000, depending whether a second measure involves the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District’s obligation to “negotiate in good faith” as part of the Trolley Trail property transaction.

Commissioner Jim Bernard, making the motion on Jan. 15 to start the process of referring the measure to voters, worried that on May 21 measure, or measures, would pass. The light-rail project would continue to go forward to completion in 2015, he predicted, giving the impression that voters weren’t being heard.

“Somehow we (should) describe, maybe it’s in the explanatory statement, that the citizens may actually vote no to do this, but contractual obligation requires we do it anyway,” Bernard said. “One thing that I hate is that, when you put something on the ballot (like this), it looks like we’re not following through.”

County Chairman John Ludlow noted that TriMet could get its way through a lawsuit or eminent-domain laws that allow a jurisdiction to take over property.

“I want to obey the people and the new law,” Ludlow said. “I hesitate telling the public, ‘Hey we’re just throwing this out here, but it doesn’t mean anything,’ because I appreciate attitudes in this state, Metro, etc., but the fact of the matter is that 3-401 was passed by the people, not by the commissioners.”

Dan Chandler, the county’s strategic policy manager, promised that the commission would have as much time as it needs to hash out the details of the proposals.

“How many minutes could we discuss each of those 500 words? I don’t know, but I imagine it will be quite a few,” Chandler said.

Commissioners will discuss specific proposals on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Public hearings were tentatively scheduled for Feb. 7 and 21. By Feb. 28, the commission would need to refer the measure to make the May ballot.




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