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Signed bills pave way for Damascus disincorporation

The signing of House Bills 3084, 3085 and 3086 by Gov. Kate Brown signifies more than progress for the citizens of Damascus. It signals the possibility of change.

“We’ve worked real hard for this,” said Chris Hawes, spokesman for the Citizens Committee for Disincorporation. “It’s been a long process, but we’re very happy we’ve gotten what we’ve needed.”

Many citizens have been fighting to disincorporate the town of approximately 10,000 residents since 2013, when 64 percent of voters favored the move. However, city officials — and later the Oregon Court of Appeals — agreed citizens needed a majority of registered voters to do so. With the new bills now signed into law, that move will be easier to come by.FILE PHOTO - Damascus residents will have the opportunitty to vote on their city's future in 2016.

HB 3085 will place the decision on the May 17, 2016 primary ballot, but will only require a simple majority of voters to pass.

“I’m pretty confident we can get a simple majority,” Hawes said. “Given that the City Council previously sued dozens of citizens, that didn’t make people happy with the city as an institution.”

HB 3084 will allow landowners to withdraw from the city if the council decides there is no “undue burden” on city operations, allowing landowners to continue de-annexing from the city. HB 3086 will distribute city funds to citizens if they decide to disincorporate in 2016.

“In the November 2012 election, we had to tell people (that) because of existing state law, all of the money the city held was going to go to Clackamas County, and there was nothing we could do about it,” Hawes said. “Now the bill allows people to get some of their money back.”

Once news spread on July 6 that the three Damascus bills had become law, the Citizens Committee for Disincorporation issued a statement.

“We are very appreciative of the work by Representatives Shemia Fagan and Bill Kennemer to assist the people of Damascus in achieving a solution long denied us. They worked tirelessly to gain the bipartisan support of their colleagues in the Oregon House and Senate for the three bills,” the statement read. “Damascus citizens’ desire to end the conflict in our community has always transcended political ideology, and we are grateful the two legislators who represent us chose to do the same, and support the people of Damascus.”

Although she couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline, Damascus Mayor Diana Helm has been supportive of disincorporation, including running on a pro-disincorporation platform in 2014.

“As mayor, I will remain neutral on disincorporation,” Helm said in June. “But I am not neutral on giving our citizens an opportunity to have their say at the ballot box. What I do know is that our citizens need a choice. They made that choice, and I believe they need that choice again.”

Hawes said for now, citizens can celebrate. But come 2016, they will gear up once again to campaign and get voters to support disincorporation.



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