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Five good reasons to vote no on 3-407

In a letter on Oct. 17, one 3-407 proponent stated: “I’ve yet to hear a plausible explanation as to why urban-renewal bonds should not require voter approval the same as all other bonds issued by Oregon City.”

Well, several good explanations have already been published, but since you may have missed them, here are five good reasons why urban-renewal bonds should not require voter approval.

One: Urban-renewal bonds are not like other bonds—Other bonds are repaid from the city’s general fund; urban-renewal bonds are not. Other bonds are backed by taxpayer dollars; urban renewal bonds are not. Other bonds can directly increase your property-tax rates; urban-renewal bonds cannot.

Because urban-renewal bonds do not raise property-tax rates and are repaid from tax revenues generated from within the urban-renewal district, citizen approval is not necessary, and elections could even slow job creation.

Two: Voting on urban-renewal projects could lead to higher taxes—Cities have several tools available to raise money for city services and civic improvements. Urban-renewal bonds are just one of these tools. Others are general obligation bonds, loans, fees and property taxes. If urban-renewal funding is stifled through politicized elections, this economic development tool will be removed from the city’s toolbox. If this happens, city leaders may have no choice but to increase fees and raise property tax rates—both of which can be done right now without voter approval!

Oregon City has the authority today to raise our property-tax rate to $5.0571 per $1,000 of tax-assessed value. The current rate is $4.1590 per $1,000. So, if needed, city leaders could raise our property-tax rates to fund revitalization efforts and city services—all without voter approval. The point is, it doesn’t make good sense to remove a good funding tool like urban renewal.

Three: Voter accountability already exists—Proponents claim that city leaders are mismanaging and misspending millions of urban-renewal taxpayer dollars. So, in order to stop alleged cronyism and self-dealing, they believe citizens must provide voter accountability.

But, their repeated attempts to discredit public officials and city staff, and to sow seeds of distrust in the minds of citizens, are hypocritical. Why? Because the same five elected officials that manage the urban-renewal budget also manage the city’s $84.1 million budget. It makes no sense for 3-407 proponents to be so alarmist about the management of urban-renewal funds, while saying nothing about the management of the city’s funds.

Also, the Urban Renewal Agency already has numerous fiscal checks and balances in place, including an 18-member budget committee that reviews and approves the annual budget; public hearings and meetings open to all citizens to review proposals, plans and budgets and give input; and an annual third-party audit of the books.

The truth is, Oregon City is in great financial shape and our city leaders, while not perfect, have an excellent track record of financial stewardship. In fact, Oregon City is in the black, has the lowest debt ratio in all of Metro, and recently received an award for excellence in financial reporting.

Four: Measure 3-407 will stifle future investments in Oregon City—Proponents believe that, since some businesses (e.g., Home Depot and Safeway), didn’t use urban-renewal funding, no business should need to use it. But, this kind of simplistic thinking assumes all transactions are created equal; but they are not.

For example, sometimes a home will sell for the asking price, but in other cases, improvements and price concessions have to be made to attract a buyer. The same principle applies to blighted properties in an urban-renewal district. Not all developers are attracted to building on a landfill, and some simply can’t afford the added costs. So, sometimes, improvements and financial incentives must be provided by the city.

The process of researching, negotiating financial agreements and approving plans is challenging and expensive. Before ground is ever broken, new businesses often invest millions of dollars on land-use studies, consultants, attorneys and permits. After all of this time and expense, no business will be willing to risk this investment on an uncertain election result. Potential big investors will simply steer clear of Oregon City.

If passed, Measure 3-407 will prevent city leaders from providing the incentives sometimes needed to bring new businesses and jobs to the city. We’re on the verge of an economic renaissance; let’s not allow Measure 3-407 to get in the way of responsible progress.

Five: Measure 3-407 will hurt future funding for city services—Urban renewal is an investment tool. It uses the tax-revenue “increment” above the frozen tax base to pay for improvements in the urban-renewal district and to attract new business developments. Over time, these new improvements and developments will raise the values of these blighted properties, and yield much higher revenues for city services once the district is closed. This is the same investment principle used when investing in a 401(k) or IRA—we forego the short-term needs to provide for long-term needs.

If passed, Measure 3-407 will discourage new businesses from developing our city’s blighted areas and will keep property values low in these areas. This will not help provide stable funding for police, fire, school +and library services in the future. Simply put, this measure is short-sighted and will hurt Oregon City services in the long-run and will prevent citizens from enjoying the quality of life they are entitled to.

In summary, each of these five arguments is strong on its own, but together they make a very clear case. This attempt to change our city charter is designed to remove the valuable tool of urban renewal from our city’s financial tool box. Oregon City needs every tool and strategy available to secure jobs for the future.

Please join with me and vote no on Measure 3-407.

Rose Holden lives and owns a business in unincorporated Oregon City.



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