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Community members were largely pleased with status quo, questioned need for funds

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO  - Traffic safety and congestion issues were among the few categories that ranked as a high priority for residents who were polled about a potential bond renewal.  One would be hard-pressed to frame widespread community satisfaction as bad news for any city council.

Yet while the results of a General Obligation (GO) bond poll conducted in West Linn by the California-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) firm in December and January painted a picture of a community that was largely pleased with the present state of affairs, the data was concerning for a West Linn City Council that has its eye on the future.

"One of the reasons we have the great resources we do is that we've put money towards it," Mayor Russ Axelrod said at a Jan. 16 meeting after the poll results were released. "We need to somehow convey that message, and that's where we might need help."

The polling results, which were compiled after 458 interviews with likely voters, were seen as a key resource to guide the council as it works to finalize the list of projects that could be funded by a renewal of the existing bond levy rate of 42 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. The bond renewal, which will likely go to vote in a May special election, is projected to generate between $15 and $18 million if voters approve.

The polling conducted by FM3 came on the heels of a more informal community survey conducted by the City last fall. Residents contacted by FM3 were asked to evaluate the merits of about 40 potential projects that could be funded by the GO bond, as well as the general state of affairs in the city.

In the end, 66 percent of respondents said the city was headed in the right direction, while 14 percent felt it was on the wrong track and 20 percent said they didn't know.

FM3 Partner and President Dave Metz presented the results to the council by conference call Jan. 16.

"The survey shows very encouragingly that people in the community feel very positive both about the overall direction of the community and the leadership that city government is providing right now," Metz said. "On most major issues in the city, we had less than half of voters raise them as very serious problems. The challenge is that means there is a relatively low perception that there is a need for additional funding to fund these services."

Specifically, each of the five major City departments that were mentioned in the polling came out with an approval rating above 50 percent. Parks and Recreation ranked highest, with 85 percent of respondents saying they either "strongly approved" or "somewhat approved" of the department's performance.

The West Linn Streets Department had a 65 percent approval rate, while city management came in at 63 percent, the City Council at 60 percent and neighborhood associations at 58 percent.

"Even for city management and City Council, where it's not uncommon to find a negative perception, there was not much of that at all in West Linn," Metz said.

When asked to evaluate a series of potential problems for the city — including everything from traffic congestion to housing costs, government inefficiency, taxes, jobs and public safety — residents were similarly kind; traffic was the only issue that at least 50 percent of respondents viewed as "extremely or very serious," and it barely made the cut at exactly 50 percent.

"There is no issue that more than half of voters feel as being a very serious problem," Metz said.

FM3 presented possible voters with two versions of potential bond language, one emphasizing that this would be a continuation of a current tax, rather than a new one, and the other emphasizing the types of projects that would be funded under the bond.

Neither garnered more than 50 percent approval, and exactly 25 percent of respondents said they were strongly opposed to both potential measures.

Broken down by age and political affiliation, younger voters between ages 18-49 and Democrats were most likely to support the measure.

In the end, Metz said the success of the measure would likely come down to voter education. Perhaps most importantly, he said that the City would have to emphasize that the measure would not result in a tax increase.

"When voters realize it's not a change in the tax rate, that's the most important thing we can tell them," he said.

Metz added that after respondents were provided with more positive information and asked for their final position, the margin creeped up to 51 percent in support versus 45 against and about 5 percent undecided.

"This does suggest that although the margins remain close, with some education and the right information, support is likely to increase," Metz said.

In the end, the council admitted that it would have its work cut out if the bond was to pass.

"It's going to be a challenge — a real challenge," Mayor Russ Axelrod said.

West Linn Tidings reporter Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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