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042518-adh-nws-Law Levy-my (copy)

Linn County Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Guilford, foreground, and, from left, Capt. Paul Timm, Sheriff Bruce Riley and Undersheriff Jim Yon, work on signs promoting renewal of the Linn County law enforcement levy on the May 15  ballot at Timm's home near Albany. 

Linn County and Albany voters will be making decisions about a pair of pocketbook issues in the May 15 election.

Ballots for that election were mailed on Wednesday.

Voters throughout the county will be asked to renew, for another four years, the law enforcement levy that helps fund the Sheriff's Office, in addition to providing vital financing for the District Attorney's office and the county Juvenile Department.

The levy on the ballot has been set at its current rate, $2.83 per every $1,000 of assessed value on properties. That means the owner of a house with an assessed value of $250,000 would pay about $707.50 yearly. (You might pay a little more for this levy if the assessed value of your property has gone up, but not because of the tax rate, which stays steady.)

Linn County voters have routinely voted in favor of renewing the levy, and we recommend that they do so again in the May 15 election: If the levy fails, it would trigger deep cuts in the county's law enforcement fabric. And it would cost the county money on other fronts as well: Failure of the levy could force the Sheriff's Office to cut back on its contracts to provide law enforcement services to seven area communities. 

Albany city voters in the May 15 election also will vote on a proposal to add 5 cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline. The idea is to use the money generated, estimated to be about $1.25 million a year, to help repair the city's local residential streets.

In many ways, the city proposal is poorly timed: Adding that nickel would have been a lot less painful when the price of gas was closer to $2 than it is today, when the price has boomed past $3.

Also, it doesn't help the gas tax proposal that it appears on the same ballot as the law enforcement levy. Our hunch is that voters inclined to vote for law enforcement will split the difference on the ballot and reject the gas tax proposal.

But failure of the gas tax proposal raises the question: How should the city of Albany pay for what it estimates as $25 million of necessary work on the city's residential streets?

The city gets some money from state gas taxes for road work, and expects to get a little bit more in the wake of the transportation package the Legislature passed in its 2017 session. 

But that money, Mayor Sharon Konopa said, doesn't come close to covering the need — and you can see why that's the case when the price tag to repair just 1,500 feet of road can surpass $1 million.

The Albany gas-tax proposal comes after years of conversations that Konopa has had with other mid-valley elected officials. At one point, there was some interest in the idea of a regional gas tax, but city of Corvallis officials opted to move in a different direction to raise revenue. (You can be sure, however, that mid-valley elected officials will be closely watching the results of this Albany election.)

The city doesn't have a lot of other options in its playbook: One possibility, Konopa said, would be to increase the city's utility fee and use the extra money for street repair. Such an increase would not have to go in front of voters.

Or the city could rethink the gas tax proposal, which we recommend. As City Councilor Mike Sykes noted, there's no real rationale for that 5 cents figure — it was just a convenient place to start. What if the city did a little more work to shape a proposal (perhaps adding a sliding scale that reduces the tax as the price of gas rises) and presented that to voters? A proposal that demonstrated a little more thought might have a better chance of passing muster with voters. (mm) 

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