The May ballot features a Gearhart firehouse bond measure and a Knappa fire tax levy.
We believe local governments have the burden to justify whether higher property taxes are necessary to achieve community goals.
Does the government function effectively? Is there a demonstrated need? Is the objective worth the extra cost?
‘Yes’ on Gearhart firehouse bond
Voters in Gearhart will get another chance to decide whether the city needs a new firehouse.
The question has surfaced several times since voters rejected a bond for a new firehouse and City Hall in 2006.
Measure 4-213 would provide $14.5 million in bond financing for a new firehouse and police station off Highlands Lane along U.S. Highway 101. The estimated annual cost is $1.213 per $1,000 of assessed property value for 20 years.
The firehouse at Pacific Way was built in 1958. The city describes the unreinforced concrete building as too small and outdated for the fire department and vulnerable in an earthquake and tsunami. The new firehouse would provide a better space for emergency responders at a higher elevation that could likely withstand a small to extra-large tsunami.
The project depends on bringing the land off Highlands Lane into the city’s urban growth boundary and on a land exchange with The Cottages at Gearhart LLC. The developer has agreed to the exchange in return for the benefit of rezoning a planned residential subdivision at a higher density than if it remained under Clatsop County’s jurisdiction.
The risks from natural disasters — as well as climate change — should be factors when deciding whether to replace or relocate critical infrastructure on the North Coast. Voters in Seaside showed foresight in 2016 by approving a $99.7 million bond measure to move schools out of the tsunami inundation zone.
But we do not need the threat of disasters to know that government buildings get old and sometimes need to be replaced or relocated.
Property taxes are the most suitable way of financing city infrastructure. The higher tax rate from the bond measure in Gearhart is not an undue burden for a community with a significant number of upper-income residents and people who own second homes and vacation rentals.
We do understand concerns from residents that the city’s path to Highlands Lane was unconventional.
The city was pursuing a new firehouse at High Point off Marion Avenue before it became apparent that it would be difficult to acquire the land.
The pivot to Highlands Lane and the need for the land exchange with The Cottages at Gearhart have complicated an otherwise straightforward question.
Voters should also keep in mind that this debate was drawn out by a legal challenge filed last year in Circuit Court by two residents who oppose the bond measure. While the legal challenge lacked merit, the court could not hold a hearing on the matter and issue a ruling in time for the bond measure to be placed on last November’s ballot.
These same opponents still claim the project is being rushed, but the delay they created provided ample time for residents to get informed about the details.
We recommend a “yes” vote.
‘Yes’ on Knappa fire tax levy
Like many rural communities, Knappa has found it difficult to keep up with the cost of providing fire protection.
Measure 4-214 would generate an estimated $3.6 million over five years for the Knappa-Svensen-Burnside Rural Fire Protection District through a tax levy of $0.7167 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The increase would put the fire district’s tax rate at $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Fire Chief Kurt Donaldson has said the fire district’s call volume has gone up, along with the expense of maintaining equipment. The fire chief hopes to add another full-time employee to work with him and the crew of about 20 volunteers.
“We’re at 640 calls or so last year, and it’s almost starting to be more than just one person can deal with as the only full-time person,” Donaldson told The Astorian. “It’s probably time for us to look at bringing on somebody else.”
The tax levy would follow the $14 million bond measure Knappa voters approved last November for school improvements.
We recognize that higher property taxes often carry heavier weight in rural communities with more working-age, year-round residents. However, fire, rescue and emergency medical services are critical lifelines.