Property taxes are a critical source of revenue for local governments.
Whenever voters are asked to pay more, the burden falls on government to justify the reasons.
Our standard for weighing higher taxes is straightforward:
• Does the government’s board function effectively?
• Can they explain the need?
We believe two local option tax levies on the May 19 ballot have met the standard and are worthy of voter support.
Clatsop County wants voters to renew a five-year local option tax for operation and maintenance at the county fairgrounds. The tax rate would go up to 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $21 a year for a home valued at $300,000.
The tax rate had been 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value until voters reduced it to 5 cents in 2016.
According to the county, the new tax rate would generate between $471,000 and $530,000 a year. The money would help sustain free or low-cost use of the fairgrounds for youth, charitable and public interest projects, facility improvements, marketing to attract new rentals and growth of the county fair.
The local option tax is the largest source of revenue for the Fair Board, which also generates money from rental fees and events and receives a share of state lottery funds for the county fair.
In a financial blow, two of the most popular events at the fairgrounds — the Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival and the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival — were canceled this year because of the coronavirus.
A few years ago, county budget staff and county commissioners had to step in and corral poor spending practices and other management shortcomings at the fairgrounds. John Lewis, a former maintenance supervisor, took over as operations manager in 2018 and has appeared to provide greater stability.
The county fair and other events at the fairgrounds bring people together and serve important cultural roles in our community. But the space often feels stale and underused, missing a creative spark.
The Fair Board has discussed a potential bond in the future to help make the fairgrounds more inviting. The bar for a bond request, however, would be significantly higher than the local option tax.
Cannon Beach fire district
The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District wants voters to pass a five-year local option tax to pay for a second commanding officer, building repairs and equipment replacement. The tax rate would be 35 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or about $141 a year for a home valued at $400,000.
The fire district, which has stations in Cannon Beach and Arch Cape, estimates the new tax would bring in between $403,000 and $454,000 a year. The second commanding officer would be a training chief who would work to prepare volunteer firefighters to respond to calls and help the fire chief guide the district. A separate tax finances the fire chief.
A higher volume of calls, many driven by visitors, has placed a strain on firefighters. Clashes between fire chiefs and the fire district’s board over the past several years have also been disruptive.
Marc Reckmann, a former division chief who became fire chief earlier this year, has emerged as a vocal advocate for more resources and better communication.
Without a second commanding officer, too much pressure builds on the fire chief.