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Levy extension would help Chehalem Ridge

Metro president floats idea of extending current levy in a November ballot measure

As the Metro Council wrapped up its work on a regional parks and nature system plan last week, its president called for an extension of Metro’s property tax levy to raise some of the money to carry out the plan.

“What we need are resources to make this work,” Council President Tom Hughes said just before the seven council members voted Feb. 4.

“It is a tall order and a tough turnaround. But it is an opportunity, in November of this year, that we will not have for awhile,” Hughes said. “Securing the resources we need to do the work would make this document more than just a plan, and make it a legacy that will last well beyond our lifetime.”

Metro has spent more than $400 million on natural areas and parks in the past two decades, including two regional bond issues and a tax levy, and now oversees 17,000 acres of green spaces in the region.

Voters in May 2013 approved a five-year levy, at 9.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, that raises an estimated $8 million to $10 million annually. If the Metro Council follows through on Hughes’ proposal for the Nov. 8 general election, the current levy would be extended from 2018 to 2023.

The current rate translates into about $20 annually for the owner of a house with a taxable value of $200,000.

Bond issues in 1995 (for $136 million) and 2006 (for $227 million) have paid for land purchases for a system that now ranges from the Chehalem Ridge natural area near Gaston on Metro’s west side to the Sandy River Gorge on the east, and from Blue Lake Park south to Graham Oaks near Wilsonville.

Proceeds from the levy can be spent on park restorations, improvements and maintenance, but not on land acquisitions. Examples are upgrades at Blue Lake and Oxbow regional parks, restoration work at Multnomah Channel Marsh, and planning for Chehalem Ridge in western Washington County. Some projects combine money from the 2006 bond and the current levy.

The regional parks and nature system plan has been two years in the making.

It is intended to fill a niche between state parks and federal lands on one hand, and parks owned by cities, counties and special districts on the other.

It divides the region into 11 “nature-hoods” defined by geography and ecological characteristics.

Councilor Craig Dirksen said Metro planners went out of their way to ensure that the regional plan will help other agencies develop funding for common goals, such as regional trail networks.

“We do our best work when the system complements, not competes with, each other,” he said.

The plan does not get into “active recreation,” such as ballfields, which is usually done by local agencies.

During the council discussion, one member cited a comment by Mike Houck, executive director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, that it would take almost two centuries at the current funding rate to complete a network of regional trails envisioned in the plan.

Among others endorsing the plan were Portland Parks & Recreation, Friends of Nadaka nature park near Gresham, and Self Enhancement Inc., which works with youths in the region.

Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, Metro director of parks and nature, said the plan is geared toward minority groups and low-income people, not just those who already have access to the outdoors.

“We start early, we get them introduced,” said Gerald Deloney, SEI director of program advancement and co-chair of the Coalition of Communities of Color. “We’re looking at the future, but we’re looking at the now, too, as in how can we make a change tomorrow.”