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Forum tackles property tax, transportation, mental health services

League of Oregon Cities lays out goals for 2015 Legislature


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard City Councilor Gretchen Buehner shares her opinion during the legislative forum.With all the talk these days of individual states declaring marijuana legal for medicinal and even recreational use, city of Beaverton's attorney Bill Kirby pointed out a key conundrum on Tuesday afternoon.

The federal government currently disagrees.

"It's still illegal, and considered a Schedule 1 drug," he said, of substances considered as having no accepted medical use with potential for abuse and addiction. "At some point, the federal government needs to have the courage to look at the policy and address it accordingly. Until they do, the current administration is allowing for some experimentation."

That "experimentation" is what states and localities such as Beaverton, Tigard and Hillsboro are wrestling with, as city councils try to determine the best course for medical marijuana — and the potential for recreational-use marijuana if a ballot measure passes in November — in their communities.

Kirby addressed the issue during a multi-topic lunch forum held as part of "City Hall Week" in the new City Council Chambers of the Beaverton Building on Tuesday. The city of Beaverton, which sponsored the forum with the League of Oregon Cities, invited policy makers from Beaverton, Portland and Tigard to discuss issues related to the area's economic vitality and stability in advance of the 2015 legislative session.

In addition to marijuana regulations, discussions focused on property tax reform, transportation funding, protecting city rights-of-way authority and enhancing mental health resources.

Specifically, the league is urging the Oregon legislature to:

• Reform Oregon’s property tax system;

• Pass a comprehensive transportation funding and policy package;

• Clarify and enhance public safety and local control related to marijuana;

• Oppose legislation that would preempt the ability of cities to manage and receive compensation for the use of the public rights of way; and

• Support increased resources across the state for people with mental health issues, especially in crisis situations.

Lose compression

Regarding property tax reform, the league proposes a constitutional referral to allow voters to consider a temporary property tax outside the existing limitations that restrict governments and special districts from levying more than $10 and $5, respectively, of real market property value.

This "compression" process keeps levied taxes, including "temporary" taxes to support schools or public safety, from exceeding those amounts, thus limiting municipalities and districts the ability to raise sufficient revenue. Changing or eliminating that limitation would require voters to approve a referral measure.

"Referral, in and of itself, does not raise anybody's taxes," explained Craig Honeyman, legislative director for the League of Oregon Cities. "It's just putting the tool in the hands of local governments. It definitely lies with you at the local level."

Moving options

The league also advocates for a comprehensive transportation funding and policy package to address multimodal needs while preserving and maintaining aging, overstressed infrastructure. To compensate for an estimated funding gap of more than $300 million per year, the league proposes increasing license plate fees and the state gas tax up to five cents per gallon, bumping up an annual fund for small cities from $1 million to $5 million and allowing local governments to generate transportation revenues.

"We need to act now," said Todd Juhasz, Beaverton's senior transportation planner, noting the state received only $150 million in federal transportation funding this year. "We can't rely on the federal government to bail us out."

He cited Beaverton's "long laundry list" of proposals, including pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements along Canyon Road and traffic and infrastructure planning for the fledgling South Cooper Mountain development area.

"We have a lot to do, and not a lot of money to get there," Juhasz said.

Oregon District 27 Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, stressed the importance of prioritizing projects when drumming up legislative backing for funding alternatives.

"I think it's generally well understood how we raise that revenue, and how might we spend those dollars," he said. "It's a question of putting those together. There is tension in those things."

Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding highlighted the need for increased mental health resources, citing a 95 percent decrease in the availability of psychiatric beds available in Washington County for those suffering mental health crises, which often requires intervention from police officers.

Beaverton resident Lisa Bradfield, one of a handful of non-government representatives at the forum, said she was impressed with the breadth of issues discussed.

"I found a variety of issues and topics (interesting) in the discussion," she said, "and found it a good opportunity to meet representatives who make decisions on behalf of the best interest of communities."

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