Election 2022: Columbia City proposes tax increase for police services – St. Helens Chronicle

Columbia City Administrator Michael McGlothin is hopeful that voters will consider voting “yes” on a property tax increase to sustain current Columbia City Police services for another five years.

Columbia City Police Levy

The increased police levy of $.90 per $1,000 of assessed property value would go into effect in November.

Measure 5-287, on the May 17 ballot, would renew the five-year operating levy for Columbia City Police services at $0.90 per $1,000 assessed property value for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The current levy is at $.67 per $1,000 assessed value or $134 annually for homeowners with a property value of $200,000. That levy will expire after the 2021-22 tax year.

With the proposed change, the median homeowner would see a $47 annual increase, to a value of $181, equivalent to paying $.50 a day.

McGlothlin said that rising costs “compared to 10 years ago, much less 10 months ago,” are the reasons for the proposed tax hike.

“Not only are your personnel costs affected by your Consumer Price Index (CPI) but also your materials and services, fuel equipment, vehicles, all the maintenance is required,” he said. “Another example is retirement contributions and insurance payments for employees within the police department. So we feel those increases are what we’re having to pay out.”

McGlothlin added that while his department doesn’t like to stress the negatives, “the reality is that (we) would be reducing current staffing levels of department personnel as much as 160 hours per month.”

The figure translates to a 40-hour loss in personnel coverage per week, according to McGlothlin.

If nothing changes with the levy, McGlothlin warns Columbia City Police also may be forced to become more “reactive in addressing dispatch calls for service.”

“Programs such as the premise check foot patrols, area patrols, and community policing may be eliminated or incur a service fee,” he said.

The bottom line, McGlothlin points out, is that a reduction in force will have a dramatic impact on criminal patrols and follow-up in investigations.

The Columbia City Police Department has two full-time, one part-time, and two reserve officers.

“We’re looking at about three field training officers (FTE) once you combine all those,” McGlothlin said.

In normal years, the CCPD’s annual budget is approximately $400,000.

Tax base concerns

Columbia City imposes the third lowest permanent tax rate in the state, at $1.13 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Meanwhile, Rainier and Clatskanie, cities with comparable population sizes, are among the top 10 for highest permanent tax rates.

The police levy adds $.67 to the permanent tax rate and puts Columbia City above St. Helens at $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value, “keeping in mind that St. Helens also has not only a much larger population base paying property tax value, but they also have a significantly larger exponentially larger commercial industrial tax base,” McGlothlin said. “Where when you combine when you compare services provided to residential areas versus services provided to commercial-industrial, it’s a huge disparity between those.”

According to McGlothlin, Measure 50 has made it difficult to impose a high enough tax rate to cover basic services.

The Oregon State Legislature passed Measure 50 in 1997, which established a permanent property tax rate for each district and limited assessed annual growth to 3% per year.

“For small communities like ours, and we’re not the only one, our permanent tax rate was so low, and the fact that we don’t have a vibrant commercial-industrial tax base to help assist in providing government services makes it tough,” he said. “We run on a very tight budget.”

Columbia City covers 1.15 square miles and has a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 residents.

The May 17 Primary Election is a vote-by-mail event. For more information about the ballot, contact Columbia County Elections at 503-397-7214 or email to elections@columbiacountyor.gov.

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