Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

County sets hearing for road funding

Commissioners consider advisory vote in May to solicit public input

Clackamas County commissioners, by a 3-2 vote Feb. 9, favor an advisory election May 17 to guide future decisions about how to raise money for road repairs.

Some of those options may require the commissioners to go back to voters for approval in the Nov. 8 general election.

But the commissioners have not yet settled on what advisory question to ask or how specific they should get about funding choices.

Commissioners have until Feb. 26 to put one or more advisory questions on the May 17 ballot. They plan a public hearing on the matter at their Feb. 18 business meeting, which is in the evening because it’s the third Thursday of the month.

“If the advisory vote comes back negative, we go back and ask them again,” Commissioner Tootie Smith said. “I firmly believe voters do not pay attention to these things until they are forced to do so on a ballot.”

Smith said a pair of public votes, timed six months apart, would allow time for advocates to make their case for more money over a fixed period — five to seven years — to carry out specific projects listed in advance.

“It doesn’t matter what we think; it matters what the voters think,” she said. “It’s up to us to come up with proposed language they can support.”

Chairman John Ludlow also supported an advisory election, although he said he would temporarily drop his advocacy of a proposal for a local vehicle registration fee of $5 annually and a countywide gasoline tax of 3 cents per gallon.

Ludlow reaffirmed his support for new money for maintenance of the 1,400-mile county system, more than half of which is rated as fair to poor.

“I will say it over and over again — we have no business building new unless we take care of what we’ve got, and we cannot take care of what we’ve got,” he said.

Commissioner Paul Savas was the swing vote for an advisory election, although he differed from Ludlow in what he would like to see in new funding sources for road work. Savas said voters in such an election should not be asked to choose among specifics.

“It would be a direct way to communicate to voters that we actually have a problem with road funding and maintenance,” Savas said.

“I’m not firm that we have to do a May advisory vote. But I think it would be educational, leading up to May, to establish that they know in advance there is a problem. If the vote says yes, voters agree we should seek funding sources for our road problem and we come back and honor that, I cannot imagine the voters saying no (in November).”

Savas said he would like to see the county and cities set aside a portion of new money for potential local matches of state and federal grants on such regional routes as the Sunrise Corridor (Highway 212) that connects Clackamas with Boring, and Interstate 205 widening between Stafford and the George Abernethy Bridge.

Dissenters on the advisory vote were Commissioners Jim Bernard and Martha Schrader, both of whom said that the county should work toward voter approval of a vehicle registration fee or fuel tax in November — but no advisory votes in May.

“Using the ballot for polling is not good,” Bernard said. “The answer will be ‘no’ and ‘no.’”

Bernard said if the commissioners seek approval of a vehicle registration fee Nov. 8, they could turn to the very cities that also would benefit from a share of its proceeds.

“I think we have to look toward them for their support and commitment that they will work to make this happen,” he said.

Schrader had a similar view on an advisory vote: “I am really fearful that it’s going to be ‘no’ and then ‘no,’ and then people will say: Why aren’t you listening to us?”