Multnomah looks at tolls, fees and doubling property taxes

By Robert Canfield,
Troutdale City Councilor

Canfield’s Blog

For several current and incoming Multnomah County Commissioners, the “big idea” to solve the County’s $25 million deficit doesn’t seem to include living within the County’s reduced revenues. One incoming County Commissioner even said it didn’t matter how much they cut, they would never be able to make expenses match revenues. In today’s financial crisis, many East Multnomah County residents have no choice but to live within their means. The option of a “bailout” isn’t an option. We’re cutting back on expenses. We’re renting DVD’s instead of going out to the movies. We’re eating meals at home instead of going out to restaurants. The shelves of the region’s food banks are emptying because many families can’t even afford to buy food. For most East County residents, the “big idea” is to live within our means.

If you think you’re having a hard time feeding your family now, how would you like your property tax bill to double or triple next year? That’s what some Multnomah County Commissioners have said they’d like to do. They want to raise your property taxes by eliminating Oregon’s property tax limitation laws

In the Oregonian’s December 4, 2008 Multnomah County Weekly insert, here’s what some of the current and incoming Multnomah County Commissioners had to say about how they’d like to solve the County’s budget woes:

Ted Wheeler:
“We shouldn’t shy away from looking for alternative sources of revenue where appropriate.”
(He lists changing the state’s property tax limitations, using levies to fund services, and creating other fees such as document recording fees and bridge tolls.)

Jeff Cogen:
“He recommends carefully examining current spending, advocating that the state maintain human services funding, looking at ways to increase tax revenues.”

Deborah Kafoury:
“The No. 1 issue is the instability of our budget. … The incoming revenues aren’t going to match expenses no matter how much you cut every year; there’s no end in sight.”

Judy Shiprack:
“It’s revenue. … The immediate problem is going to be living within our means.”
(She recommends looking at ways to increase tax revenue by removing limitations on property taxes or local option taxes.)

I realize the Multnomah County Commission provides many essential social and public services. The County Commission is faced with some tough choices. But wouldn’t you like to see the County Commission make a better effort to find more cuts before they talk about doubling or tripling your property tax bill?

In an April 2008 letter to County employees, County Chair Wheeler acknowledged the central problem- the County has failed to live within its means. In the letter, Wheeler stated,

“In Oregon we are already experiencing impacts of the downturn in the national economy. In Multnomah County government those impacts compound the problems created when we failed to cut the budget to match the decline in revenue from the expiration of the Itax.”

Wheeler knows what needs to be done. He needs to cut the budget to match the decline in County revenues. Will the new County Commission have the political courage to do the right thing and cut their budget to match existing revenues instead of trying to double or triple your property tax bill?

If you want your property tax bill to double in size, by all means, help out the County Commission and call your local legislator. Let them know it’s ok with you. However, if you don’t want your property tax bill to double or triple, contact your local legislator, Multnomah County Chair Wheeler or your own Multnomah County Commissioner and tell them you expect them to live within their means like the rest of us.

-Robert Canfield is a Troutdale, Oregon City Councilor.