CORRECTION: Hearing scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m., not 10 a.m.

Clackamas County commissioners clashed July 8 in continuing discussions on ballot language for an effort to raise taxes to build new parks.

Commissioner Paul Savas has been arguing passionately for new parks to be built in “severely underserved” Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge areas south of Milwaukie. Savas said he has failed to convince his fellow commissioners of the need there and faulted them for not reading the 2004 North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District Master Plan, which he said outlines several proposals that have not been followed through.

“This is a great document,” Savas said. “If you read this, you’ll have a greater understanding of the issue.”

Commissioner Tootie Smith said she felt insulted. “Mr. Savas if you’re trying to endear your board members to vote your way, I suggest you not insult us by suggesting that we haven’t read anything or suggesting that you’re all-knowledgeable and we’re not.”

The issue boils down to whether voters would approve a tax rate hike of 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value if they didn’t see direct benefit to their neighborhood.

The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District currently has 64 parks properties, but only 11 in the area of most concern to Savas. Money to build new parks tends to come from fees charged to developers, but that area was built two decades ago — there’s no new development money coming in.

Commission Chair John Ludlow said he worries that if the parks bond is weighted too heavily towards that area, no one else in the district would vote for it.

“We can read all we want,” Ludlow said. “Now we have to find the money so that we can live the dream.”

Fragmented system

The board eventually voted to work on an even distribution among the three areas — approximately $8.33 million each. Though Commissioner Jim Bernard agreed with Commissioner Martha Schrader that the proposal didn’t feel ready to present to voters, he joined Ludlow and Smith in voting to move forward.

“It seems like this is getting worse every time we get together,” Bernard said. “Happy Valley is less happy. Oak Grove/Oak Lodge is less happy. And we haven’t worked out all these details yet.”

Savas voted no and Schrader abstained.

“I’m concerned that, frankly, it’s not going to pass,” Schrader said. “And if it doesn’t pass, it’s just going to continue to fragment what was a cohesive system.”

As it stands now, the full ballot measure will create a separate North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District with its own elected board. The commissioners serve as the park district board. The rate per $1,000 of assessed property value would increase from 54 cents to 89 cents. Fifteen cents of the increase will go towards operating costs of the entire parks system. The extra 20 cents — about $25 million total — will go toward debt payments on new parks.

A public hearing to discuss the ballot measure is 6 p.m. Thursday, July 17, at the Red Soils campus.

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