Warrenton voters certainly should vote in favor of Measure 4-146, the renewal of a 28-cent per $1,000 property tax levy that provides vital augmentation for the police force. At the same time, citizens there should ponder exactly what their leaders have wrought in recent years.

With 4,650 residents spread out over 18 square miles, Warrenton has to the biggest small town in Oregon - maybe in the Pacific Northwest. This started with the fairly logical consolidation of Warrenton and Hammond in the 1990s, but has continued apace with various and sundry annexations.

This means Warrenton has about 21/2 acres per person, raising all sorts of problems in terms of providing municipal services including policing. Even though the population tends to be congregated into clumps, there are significant issues caused by the sheer size of the place compared to what its people can reasonably afford.

With seven officers to provide full-time, year-round police protection, Warrenton is at about the bare minimum required for public safety. Exactly how Chief of Police Mathew Workman manages to juggle this with regard to vacations, illnesses and other normal personnel issues is something of a mystery. He and his officers certainly deserve thanks for managing as well as they do, especially considering an increasing workload as a bad economy upsets the equilibrium of local families.

In theory, Oregon's growth-management laws are supposed to curtail sprawl. They obviously haven't worked in Warrenton, where year after year leaders have embraced aggressive expansion.

Experts in urban issues long ago disproved the assumption that adding more houses and businesses produces more than enough taxes to pay off in any reasonable timeframe. In fact, it can take decades before a city's income from development catches up with its expenses. In the meantime, current residents make up the difference or make the sacrifices in terms of diluted services.

This will be particularly true for Warrenton, which in essence fell into the national housing trap of buying more house than it needed, assuming the market would always be up and up. Its recent growth has brought the levy rate down seven cents from last year's failed proposal for an eighth police officer. But with the real estate market having now dramatically slowed, it will be interesting to see what happens with rates in the future.

Warrenton owns its situation now and must make do. It ought to take a very long breather before taking on any more tempting opportunities. It also is an example of the kind of growth a small municipal government should not take on.

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