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Clackamas board OKs property tax exemption

Benefit would go to surviving spouses of fallen police officers, firefighters.

Clackamas County has joined several others to allow a partial property tax exemption for the surviving spouses of police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty.

The five commissioners voted Thursday (Oct. 6) for the exemption, which Oregon lawmakers authorized counties to do earlier this year in Senate Bill 1513.

They did so after hearing from Chief Deputy Chris Hoy, who represented Sheriff Craig Roberts, and Canby police Lt. Jorge Tro, who spoke for other agencies.

“We would prefer that this resolution not be necessary and never be utilized,” Hoy said. “But sadly, that is not the reality we live in.”

According to the Oregon police and fire memorials at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which runs the public safety academy in Salem, 70 police officers and 55 firefighters have died since 1970. In the past two decades, 25 police officers and 30 firefighters have died.

Assistant County Administrator Dan Chandler said about half a dozen counties have approved the exemption.

Washington County has discussed the issue but commissioners have taken no formal action.

The exemption would apply to the first $250,000 of assessed (taxable) value, and it would affect all local governments in the county where the surviving spouse lives. The exemption would still apply if the spouse lives in a different county from where the fallen officer or firefighter was employed, but it would no longer apply if the spouse remarries.

Clackamas County officials said the savings to a surviving spouse would be between $2,500 and $5,200 annually — depending on residence in an unincorporated area or a city — and cost county government between $620 and $750 for each instance.

“I hope most of the counties in Oregon agree to this tax exemption,” Commissioner Jim Bernard said. “That’s really all I can say.”

The exemption would apply to surviving spouses of volunteer firefighters and reserve officers, but not search-and-rescue volunteers.

“They (public safety workers) are the first line of defense we have,” said Chairman John Ludlow, who met with search-and-rescue volunteers recently.

The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature without dissent and took effect June 2. It was backed by the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police.

The only opposition was voiced by Tax Fairness Oregon during a House Revenue Committee hearing Feb. 25. Jody Wiser said the amount of lost taxes was small, but the losses to schools and local governments from multiple exemptions add up.

She also said the exemption was more than 10 times the amount available to military veterans with disabilities and their surviving spouses.

“With all due respect to our local fire and police personnel and their families, whose pay and benefits do address the risks of their jobs, please oppose SB 1513 or amend it to allow no abatement of education dollars,” she said.

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Adds update on Washington County status.