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City makes smart choice on levy rate

For the levy to pass, advocates will need to show that the city is operating frugally.

In a more perfect world, cities like Forest Grove would be able to fund public services with a tax base that kept up with rising costs.

But with development on a very slow rebound and property values still depressed, local governments find themselves with a tough choice: ask residents for more money or cut back on services.

Last week, the Forest Grove City Council chose a compromise that left few people happy.

That unpopular choice was the right one.

In 2013, the city's operating levy, with a current rate of $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value, will expire.

Asking the voters to renew the tax surcharge at that rate would have likely been a fairly easy sell. But the revenue wouldn't keep up with rising costs.

To keep services at their current levels and maintain a healthy reserve fund, the city would need to bump the rate to $1.85 per $1,000 of assessed value.

A poll commissioned by the city indicated that once voters understand the reasons behind such a big bump, it might be possible to pass that rate in the next five-year levy.

Instead, last Monday, the council opted for a $1.60 rate. That level will likely require cuts down the road, which is why some councilors and many citizen activists were lobbying for $1.85

But the $1.60 rate is still a tax increase, and in this economic environment, it's fair to ask local governments to do what most households and businesses have had to do almost every year and tighten their belts a little bit more.

That's not just smart politics, but good policy. Many of the people who rely on city services are on fixed incomes. Others are on declining incomes. To them, an extra $5 per month (for the $1.60 rate) is already daunting.

That's why we encourage that even those who advocated for the $1.85 rate promised to work hard to pass the $1.60 compromise.

Because for the levy to pass in May, advocates will need to not only educate voters on why a bump in the rate is needed, but also show how the city is continuing to operate frugally.