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Gresham residents can't afford to reject levy

ENDORSEMENT


In the fall 2012, the Gresham City Council approved a $7.50 month fee on residents that funds police, fire and park services. But the clock is ticking down to June 30, when that fee expires.

At that time, Gresham will have arrived at a pivotal moment: How will it continue to fund police, fire and parks services without the revenue generated by the fee?

The city could have simply renewed the fee; that would have been easy by avoiding the complication of a drawn out election campaign.

Instead, city leaders listened when residents insisted on being given the option of voting on replacement funding for the expired fee.

That's where measure 26-157 entered the picture. And that's why Gresham residents are being asked to approve the levy in the May election. The levy would cost $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The expiring fee costs residents $90 a year. The replacement levy, in its first year, would cost about $114 for the average Gresham homeowner.

A full 95 percent of the levy revenue would be dedicated to police and fire services, with enforcement and prevention of gang activity gaining the highest priority. The remaining 5 percent will be allocated to parks.

To understand the need for this levy requires a trip back to the mid 1990s, when the city's permanent property tax rate was frozen at $3.61 per $1,000 of assessed value. That rate was — and is — among the lowest of all major cities in Oregon. That means the residents of Gresham shoulder a smaller tax burden than the residents of almost all other major Oregon cities.

Meanwhile, the city of Gresham is asked to finance its programs and services on that tax rate. That may have worked back in the mid 1990s, but here in 2014 that rate doesn't take into account the increased costs associated with battling crime, fighting fires or just providing services to a larger population.

With limitations on property taxes, Gresham finds itself near the bottom of the list in Oregon when comparing the number of police officers per 1,000 residents, a number tracked and reported by the FBI.

Meanwhile, Gresham's population is growing, placing an ever-increasing demand on the city for police, fire and park services.

So, Gresham voters have arrived at the May 2014 election, facing the question of whether they'll approve or reject this important five-year finance levy.

How they vote does matter: If the levy fails, the city would lose funding that pays for about 20 police officers, two fire stations and a third of the city's park maintenance staff.

Gresham would become less attractive to people considering East County as a place to relocate, which would harm the local real estate market.

Police would be stretched further by an overwhelming work load, giving criminals a green light.

Response times by police and fire services would increase.

Parks would suffer from even more deferred maintenance.

Gresham has too much to lose by rejecting this levy, and so much to gain by passing the measure. We strongly encourage a yes vote on 26-157.




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