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Clackamas official: Bond supporters have work to do


Commissioners edge closer to referral of emergency radio upgrade.

Even as they prepare to put it on the ballot, one of the Clackamas County commissioners says supporters will have to step up efforts for passage of a $58.7 million bond issue to upgrade the emergency radio communications system.

The comments from Commissioner Tootie Smith came Tuesday (Jan. 26) as commissioners reviewed the wording of the official summary, known as a ballot title, for the proposed measure on the May 17 primary election.

The commissioners are expected to act on the ballot title in February.

Washington County commissioners already have acted to put a $77 million bond issue on the May 17 ballot for similar purposes. The counties own the system, which dates back to the early 1990s.

The projected tax rate for the Clackamas County bond issue is 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's about $25 per year for the owner of an average house.

According to a public opinion survey conducted back in July 2015, a hypothetical bond in Clackamas County drew only 45 percent support — including leaners — against 34 percent opposition. Advocates of money measures prefer to start well above 50 percent support.

If Clackamas County was considering referral of such a measure for itself, Smith said, “we would not do it because these numbers are awful.”

Although Clackamas County is one of its 20 members, the bond request comes from the Clackamas 800 (C800) Radio Group, the consortium that runs the system.

The survey was conducted with 400 voters interviewed by Patinkin Research Strategies of Lake Oswego, which also concluded that a bond issue could muster majority support.

The consultant’s report advised commissioners that the bond should be described for use by the emergency “radio” system — not communications — that it would pay for replacement of obsolete radios and other equipment, and for expansion of radio towers into hard-to-reach areas such as Mt. Hood and southern Clackamas County.

Although the area around Mt. Hood is within a national forest, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement.

According to the survey, four in 10 questioned said they had relied on emergency response by police, fire or medical agencies at some point, and 60 percent of the overall sample said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the system.

But of those who said they relied on emergency response, they split on the desirability of a bond issue to replace the system — 44 percent to 38 percent — while those who have not favor a bond, 49 percent to 27 percent.

Democrats and nonaffiliated voters were more likely to support it, but its strongest support came from older women and Republican women.

Smith was the only one of the five commissioners who did not voice an opinion on the bond at a policy session on Jan. 14. The commissioners, as elected officials, can take stands for or against ballot measures — but government staffs cannot do so or use public resources for advocacy either way.

The other commissioners said they support the measure.

“This is your one shot,” Smith said to its advocates.

“If this doesn’t go, don’t expect the board to put this back on the ballot in light of all the other priorities,” such as road repairs and a replacement courthouse.

Back in 1990, Washington County voters approved a three-year property tax levy to pay for their emergency radio communications system, but Clackamas County voters did not follow suit. Clackamas County then lent money to participating agencies, but county officials say there is no money available to do so a second time if this bond fails.

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Corrects location of Patinkin Research Strategies.