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Milwaukie plans to ask citizens to pass a $4 million bond to pay for its light-rail obligation to TriMet.

Rather than attempt a bond that would include other projects totaling up to $26.6 million, the City Council decided last week to focus on avoiding the deep cuts to Milwaukie’s public services that ongoing payments to TriMet would force.

Council members experienced some “sticker shock” on Nov. 5 when they heard about the $3.1 million for neighborhood parks, $5.7 million for Riverfront Park completion, and $13.8 million for Ledding Library renovation. They had considered bundling a package of wish-list items for up to an average annual $224 tax increase.

Anticipating that the citizens might still be wary of paying $34 annually in extra property taxes for the average home assessed at $200,000, bond backers will emphasize the positive aspects of light rail. Milwaukie officials estimate the light-rail project is bringing $15 million in infrastructure investment that the city otherwise would not have been able to afford.

“It resonates that people will support a bond measure based on sound financial data,” said Milwaukie spokesman Grady Wheeler.

This spring, Budget Committee members will determine the exact effects of the cuts by creating two budget scenarios: one if voters pass the measure and one in case of its failure.

The City Council is expected to refer a ballot title and the text of the measure to the Clackamas County Elections Office in March. In the meantime, the city will launch a community conversation and education effort through its website, its newsletter, mayor’s forums, focus groups and neighborhood associations.

“We can provide factual information throughout, but as soon as the ballot measure and title are referred, that’s apparently a game changer,” Wheeler said. “At events attended by city staff, a city councilor is always free to advocate and say this is a really good deal. The city will also provide information to the grassroots organization that we hope will form to rally citizens around the measure.”

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