City of Corvallis officials painted a dire picture on Thursday about city services that would be lost if a planned expansion of the city’s local option property tax levy is rejected by city voters in May.
The City Council, which meet in a work session Thursday, is poised to approve the levy referral to the voters at its Nov. 19 meeting. If voters ultimately back the measure, it would levy $1.07 per $1,000 of assessed value to property owners’ tax bills starting next July. The current levy, which expires June 30, 2019, charges 82 cents per $1,000. The annual cost for the owner of property assessed at $300,000 is $246 under the current levy. It would rise to $321 per year if a new levy is approved by the voters in November.
But if the levy, which primarily will pay for parks, recreation and library services, does not pass, city officials say, cuts will follow (see the online version of this story for a complete summary).
In the city's Parks and Recreation Department, for example, the Majestic Theatre, Osborn Aquatic Center and the Chintimini Senior and Community Center would close. Department staffing levels would fall from 34.54 full-time equivalents to 19, and 360 casual employees would be terminated. Virtually all classes, recreation options, day camps and outdoor programs would cease.
At the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, hours would be reduced from 60 per week to 40 per week, with complete closures on Sunday, Monday and most evenings. Nineteen current employees would be cut as FTEs drop from 45 to 31.25. The materials budget would be reduced by 53 percent, or $440,000.
The levy renewal is part of a “three-legged stool” of revenue increases planned by the city. Step one is a public safety fee that would help pay for additional firefighters and police officers. A public hearing on implementing the fee will open the Nov. 19 council session, with a discussion of the levy also on the agenda. Residents wanting to comment on the public safety fee must do so during the hearing. Those wishing to air their views on the levy can speak during the community comments section of the meeting.
Still to come is final action on a countywide 911 emergency services taxing district, which city officials are hoping to place on the November 2019 ballot.
The current dispatch center in the law enforcement building on Northwest Fifth Street has a budget that pays for 17 employees. The new district, if approved, would pay for 24 dispatchers, four supervisors and establish a reserve fund for equipment and facilities upgrades.
The district, like the levy, would be supported by a property tax increase. The plan, led by Corvallis Police Chief Jonathan Sassaman, is to ask for 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, but the goal during the early years of the district is to use just 45 cents of it. The tax increase would raise approximately $3.7 million per year countywide. Having the 65-cent limit is seen as a way to help make it easier for the district to grow with the population.
The key discussion points at Thursday’s work session were urgency and whether the levy offers the right mix of services. Approving the issue for the ballot as soon as practical is important, officials said, because it would give those wanting to form a political action committee and campaign infrastructure time to get started.
Ward 7 Councilor Bill Glassmire suggested that the levy, which would raise more than $29 million during its five-year plan, should include some discretionary funds that the council could use for items such as social services, low-income assistance and set-asides for the city’s Public Employee Retirement System obligations.
Other councilors disagreed, with many noting that voters are less likely to back revenue increases in which they don’t know what they are paying for.
Ward 8 Councilor-elect Ed Junkins, who also is a member of the Corvallis School Board, backed the current approach, citing his experience working on a $200 million school facilities bond that voters passed in May.
“Simple is better,” Junkins said. “Discretionary becomes a hard concept to sell. The levy needs to be a very focused, clear and easy-to-understand effort.”
Junkins added that the school district emphasized the safety aspect of the facilities bond, and the measure passed by a 68-32 percent margin.
Junkins, who replaces Mark Page in Ward 8, will be sworn in at the Nov. 19 session. City Manager Mark Shepard said that Junkins was allowed to “contribute fully” at Thursday’s session on the advice of the city attorney.