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Mayors hold court at monthly forum

Mayors from the three largest cities in the region talked about the benefits of cooperation and problems created by Oregon’s complex property tax limitation system at the Westside Economic Alliance’s monthly breakfast forum last week at Embassy Suites in Tigard.

It was the second time Portland Mayor Charlie Hales spoke at the forum, and only the second time any mayor had attended a meeting of the public-private economic development advocacy organization. He was joined by Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle.

All three mayors cited their joint efforts to convince Google to install its ultra high-speed fiberoptic broadband system in the region as an example of working together. Six cities in the region are trying to convince Google they can handle the complex permitting and installation request by May. Google will decide where they will expand by the end of the year. The other cities vying for Google’s expansion are Gresham, Lake Oswego, Tigard and Tualatin.

The mayors were also in agreement that property tax restrictions have prompted their cities to impose new fees and charges to help finance infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate growth.

Hales, Willey and Doyle all said they believe the fees and charges — including System Development Charges imposed on new construction projects — are now so high that some developers are going elsewhere.

Wildly different taxes

Hales said he hoped Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber will lead a tax reform effort to address the problems created by the limitation system, including wildly different taxes paid on properties of equal value.

All three mayors agreed that local governments will have to find new sources of funds for road projects and improvements, because the federal and state governments have failed to keep raising gas taxes to keep up with inflation and population increases.

Hales criticized two upcoming initiative petition measures as “toxic.” He denounced a measure on the March 11 special election ballot in Tigard that would oppose a new high-capacity transit line and the one on the May 20 primary election ballot in Portland to create an independent water and sewer district. Although Hales said both measures were “seductive,” they would have negative consequences.

Doyle and Willey declined to comment on the ballot measures, however.

Willey took the opportunity to announce that the 2014 Oregon International Air Show is back on track. The headline Canadian Forces Snowbirds had earlier pulled out because of budget cuts, causing organizers to consider canceling the popular Sept. 19 to 21 event at the Hillsboro Airport. But they recommitted just days before the WEA forum, much to the relief of Willey and his wife, Judy, who is president of the air show’s board of directors.

Strange mascots

The panel was moderated by Pamplin Media Group President Mark Garber, who was kidded by WEA Executive Director Pam Treece for graduating from the University of South Carolina, whose athletic program uses “Fighting Gamecocks” as its mascot.

Garber admitted the mascot was strange, but, when introducing Doyle, noted he graduated from Illinois State University, whose mascot is the “Ferocious Redbirds.” And he added that Hales graduated from the University of Virgina, whose unofficial sports nickname is “Wahoo.”

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