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Damascus voters reject charter amendment

Mayor Helm: Strict spending limit in charter is choking city

Damascus residents rejected amending the city’s charter to increase the spending limit and create an emergency fund by a margin of just 39 votes in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, special election.

As of 1:30 p.m., 1,744, or 25.7 percent, of the city’s 6,796 voters returned ballots. Unofficial results from Tuesday evening show the measure was rejected by 1018 votes, or 51 percent; 979 voters wanted to approve the measure.

The city’s spending limit is based on the prior year’s spending and can be increased by 2.5 percent. Currently, if the city wants to authorize spending above what is allowed, the council needs to unanimously vote on the spending and then refer the expenditure to voters through a ballot measure.

The measure on the Nov. 3 ballot would allow for exceptions to the spending limit for emergencies and other development projects.

The measure was seen as confusing to many, city officials said.

Damascus Mayor Diana Helm explained it to The Outlook by using a hypothetical situation: If the city’s budget were $100, and the city only spent $80 that year, next year the budget would be $80.

The spending limit in the charter effectively forced the city to spend money it didn't need to spend just so it would have the same amount the next year. The spending cap also leaves the city without a savings fund, because money can’t be carried over from year to year.

Damascus citizens voted for the strict spending limit in 2012.

However, in just five months, the entire issue could be rendered meaningless. Citizens will vote in May 2016 whether to disincorporate Damascus after 10 years of existence as an incorporated municipality.

Helm noted previously that the November vote is good barometer for what’s likely to happen in May. For the city to stay a functioning city, she said, residents needed to pass the measure to provide funding for crucial development projects.

But if residents vote to disincorporate, the city charter would be “surrendered,” meaning it ceases to legally exist, as the government would be dissolved. If that happens, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners would become the decision-making body for the unincorporated community.