No-frills bond measures in Forest Grove and Banks deserve support

Forest Grove City Levy Measure 34-196: YES

It's hard to believe that five years ago this month, when voters in Forest Grove were considering a levy to fund city services, one of the arguments used by opponents was that if voters defeated the measure and starved the city of cash, the rapid development might be slowed.

Well, the five-year levy passed. And that unbridled development? Well, the economy took care of that.

In fact, the lingering effects of the Great Recession provide the only reason our support of this levy is tempered: some residents will have a hard time paying the modest increase the city is seeking.

We are sensitive to that concern and yet we strongly support Measure 34-196.

But before we make our sales pitch, a bit of background:

In 2007, voters in Forest Grove approved a five-year levy to fund the police and fire departments, parks, libraries and other city services. The rate on that levy, which expires in June 2013, is $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Although the levy won't expire for more than a year, city officials and community members have been discussing (and debating) the renewal for several months.

The sticking point was how much to ask for. Should the city ask voters to simply extend the $1.35 rate? That would be an easy sell, but would create shortfalls before the end of the next five-year period, when expenses (largely pegged to employee benefits and compensation) would rise faster than tax receipts, wiping out the city's reserves.

City officials showed the effects of various options at a town hall in January and there was strong support for boosting the rate to $1.85. At that level, the city could maintain its current service levels, avoid layoffs and ensure a healthy contingency fund through 2018.

But after considerable discussion with members of the city's budget committee, the council (in a split vote) opted to go with a lower rate, $1.60, saying that given the hardships faced by many residents and businesses, they needed to pare down their request.

That was the right choice both fiscally and politically.

We won't waste any ink on those who think the role of a city government should be limited to filling potholes, putting out fires and investigating burglaries. It's true that the city can do that without this levy.

But if you believe, as do we, that a city also needs to provide recreational opportunities for its youth, free chimney inspections for its senior citizens, assistance to new businesses and a fully staffed library for the entire community, then we urge you to vote 'yes' on Measure 34-196.

It tacks an additional 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value onto property. That increase (about $4 a month for a typical homeowner) will ensure that our police and fire departments are able to maintain current service levels and help other city departments to avoid further cuts.

Those who vote against the measure are not just saying 'no' to the increase in property taxes; they're saying 'no' to the current level of funding, which runs out next year.

The loss of that levy money (about $1.5 million this year) cannot be absorbed solely by the police and fire departments. Other city services will be affected.

As we've said in the past, we're not fans of using serial levies to pay for ongoing services. But, thanks to the quirks of Oregon's initiative-hobbled tax system, there's not much choice for local governments

Banks School Bond

Measure 34-197: Yes

 The Banks school bond is the Yogi Berra of local tax measures: 'it's like déja vu all over again.'

This proposed levy, in one form or another, has been before voters three times in the past four years. Now it's on the ballot a fourth time.

So, we don't need to spend a lot of time reviewing what's at stake. This isn't a measure to buy a new curriculum, fancy furniture for the staff lounge or field turf for the high school sports teams. This is a measure to replace facilities that are interfering with learning and posing safety risks to students.

In this incarnation, the levy would raise $10.5 million over 15 years, less than half of what was requested (and nearly approved) in 2008 and 2010. The money would be spent on a pared-down list of critical needs, such as an upgraded furnace, new pipes and improved fire alarms, sprinklers and lighting. It would also repair roofs and finance construction of more classroom space, including a new science lab at the junior high.

Measure 34-197 would do that by imposing a property tax surcharge of 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, costing the owner of a $180,000 home just over $50 per year.

We think that's a fair investment in an institution that not only educates the students in the district but hosts events and services for the entire community.

Next week, our picks for:

State Attorney General

Democratic primary

1st Congressional District

Republican primary

State House District 29

Democratic Primary

Contract Publishing

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