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Task force looks to raise revenue

Panel suggests zip code change and projects to re-brand the city


If the city of Tigard hopes to be spared from big cuts and layoffs, it’ll have to make some changes.

That’s the recommendation of a special team tasked with finding additional revenue in the budget over the next several years.

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, set up by Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen earlier this year, said the city would need to make a host of changes, some small, some not, if it hoped to bring in more businesses and residents — and the subsequent tax revenue — to stay afloat over the next several years.

Dirksen told the city earlier this year that Tigard was at the edge of a “budget precipice,” unless fundamental changes happened in the ways cities could collect tax revenue.

With fewer tax dollars coming in every year, Dirksen said, the task force was created to find a solution to fix the city’s future financial woes.

“There isn’t a silver bullet,” task force member Jason Rogers told the City Council at its last meeting of the year on Dec. 18. “But what we have is a package that, if implemented collectively, I think will move us to more prosperous times.”

‘Nobody likes additional taxes’

The city isn’t in serious financial trouble yet, but has already felt the first of its budgetary woes, laying off 11 city employees in 2010 and closing the Tigard Public Library one day a week to save money.

The financial turmoil isn’t Tigard’s alone, Dirksen said during his State of the City address earlier this year, but is faced by every city and county across the state.

The problem is the way taxes are collected in Oregon, Dirksen said. Laws such as Measure 50 limit increases of a property’s assessed value.

While the city is taxing homes at the same rate each year, the cost of doing business continues to rise, Dirksen said.

“Nobody likes to see additional taxes and fines,” said Tom Woodruff, a task force member and former city councilor. “I think there are some ways that the revenue can be generated, but it requires more legwork in the community to make the case that we need those funds and that we are going to use them wisely.”

Sending a message

The task force’s recommendations centered on two main themes: Better communication and creating an identity for Tigard, which has been long seen in the wider community as a pass-through on Highway 99W or Highway 217.

“We need to get the message out about what a good job we’re doing,” said task force member Dan Goodrich.

Member Melody Graeber said good communication with residents was the umbrella under which all of the city’s future efforts depended.

“It is critical in engaging the business community and residents and developing the image that the city wants to project,” Graeber said.

That communication can come in a variety of forms, including increasing the city’s presence at street fairs, the Tigard Festival of Balloons and other events; being more communicative with residents and businesses and asking them directly what they want the city to be doing; forming more public and private partnerships and working with business leaders to create a strong business center.

“We cannot over emphasize the importance of good communication,” said Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Mike Duyck, who served on the task force. “It has to be one of the most important pieces that you try to push everything you’re doing to people.”

Economic development and a healthy business center are critical for the city’s hope of a sustainable financial environment, the task force said.

“The city has a lot to offer business, but it needs to be more creative and proactive in attracting quality businesses that citizens want, especially downtown,” said task force member Mike Stevenson.

To do that, the city should hire an economic development director, which would work to bring in new businesses to town, work with current local businesses to improve the relationship with City Hall and encourage people to shop locally.

“Community development is a major focus that we need to attract in the future,” Stevenson said.

A Tigard zip code?

Beautification projects along Pacific Highway can go a long way in improving Tigard’s brand, and improving the view of downtown Tigard from the Pacific Highway viaduct will help to create a better image of Tigard in the eyes of both residents and visitors, Stevenson said.

The city should put up more “Welcome to Tigard” signs in key areas, to let people know they are coming to Tigard to do their shopping or recreational activities, he added.

While thousands of people rushed to Washington Square to make their holiday purchases, most had no idea they were traveling to Tigard to do their shopping, Goodrich said.

The city also needs to continue its plans for a large community gathering place in downtown Tigard. City leaders have said for years they want some kind of public plaza on or near Southwest Main Street.

The task force also proposed a plan that would change the city to a single, distinctive zip code for the city to help re-brand Tigard.

“That will help foster a stronger business connection with the city,” Graeber said.

Tigard has been without its own zip code since its inception. Instead, it is split between two separate zip codes, both of which are shared with the larger city of Portland.

“We need to do a better job of representing the city of Tigard and helping people to embrace their city,” Graeber said.

Cut to the bone

City Councilor Gretchen Buehner said the recommendations were fantastic, but also stressed the city has little money to make some of the recommendations a reality.

“Hiring an economic development person or recreation person, those positions cost dollars, and right now, we don’t have the dollars to spend,” Buehner said. “In fact, we may be looking at cuts, again.”

Buehner said the city needed to stay “incredibly fiscally conservative.” Funding for these ideas might have to come from the public via a local option levy, she added.

“We need to educate citizens on the financial realities,” Buehner said. “We can’t cut any more. We’ve cut to the bone. We won’t be able to provide the services.”

Duyck said the city was facing the same type of challenges all local governments across the state were facing. But with the proper legwork, the city should be able to come through it, he said.

“We see incredible potential in the city,” Duyck added. “When you look at the opportunities we have available — with buildable lands, a business community that wants to see the city successful and opportunities to highlight the city and make it a standout community in the region — we’re excited for your future.”

The full report from the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force is available on the city’s website at tigard-or.gov.




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