City officials not forced to continue to collect a $6.50-per-month utility fee until reserves are built up

Oregon City voters on Sept. 19 overwhelmingly approved the city's second proposal to fund a police and court facility by 81 to 19 percent in unofficial results.

City commissioners put the $20 million OCPD/Municipal Court plan back on the ballot after it got voted down in November 2016. General obligation bonds proposed in 2016 would have reduced the overall cost of the project by providing the lowest interest rates, but voters rejected the building financing plan by 56.5 to 43.5 percent on Nov. 8.

RENDERING COURTESY: SCOTT MOORE, GROUP MACKENZIE ARCHITECT - In a concept for a new police station, OCPD's police vehicles could be parked in a secure lot, near the back entrance, for registering sex offenders and away from the public plaza on Linn Avenue.Police Chief Jim Band joined OCPD in 1999 and said that Sept. 19 is the best day he's had so far. He said he was humbled that the vote was so overwhelming.

"I'm super, super happy for a million reasons," Band said. "Anyone in the community needing the police department, the whole experience, everything is going to be improved by this new facility."

Band extended his appreciation to the many people who really care enough about their community to volunteer their time to advocate for the department's needs.

"There's a lot of attention downtown, but having something that's new and rooted in community at the top of the hill will be great for Oregon City," Band said.

PHOTO BY: JOYCE GIFFORD - Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band and Measure 3-517 volunteer William Gifford celebrate the Sept. 19 election results at Lil' Cooperstown Bar & Grill.Band has been in touch with Wendy Libke, the widow of the OCPD officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2013, and invited her to be part of helping design what will be the new Robert Libke Oregon City Public Safety Building. Concept drawings have been released, but the new building is essentially a "blank slate," according to Band, who encouraged everyone from the community to get involved in planning for the new station.

"There's a lot of work that's going to start now, and now we have to deliever the right project within budget," Band said.

By a unanimous vote of city commissioners at their May 17 meeting, elected officials put the police and court facility back on the ballot as a revenue bond to ensure that the city isn't allowed to raise property taxes to repay the bonds. Oregon City officials in 2016 tried to convey the fact that they had no intention of raising property taxes and would instead rely on existing revenue sources to fund the building.

City officials plan to repay the revenue bonds through the utility fee they began collecting in 2015, and have promised to stop collecting the fee once the police facility is paid for. If voters hadn't approved the revenue bond, city officials would have had to continue to collect a $6.50-per-month utility fee until Oregon City could pay for the project entirely out of its reserves.

In 2015, the City Commission approved the utility fee in order to put money aside for the eventual construction of a new police and court facility. While the average homeowner would have had to pay $10 per month for a conventional property tax bond, the utility fee spread the cost of the police facility to various organizations that don't pay property taxes but still use police services.

In the 1980s when the city purchased the state welfare office for its current police station, Oregon City's population under 16,000 was served by approximately 30 total police employees. Today, the population of Oregon City has more than doubled to over 35,000 residents with 57 full-time police staff employees, some accommodated in three double-wide trailers parked on site. OCPD's new station would accommodate an estimated 69 sworn police officers and 20 nonsworn employees by 2035.

A $20 million building plan includes the police department, Municipal Court, Code Enforcement, a large public meeting space and a modern Emergency Operations Center. About $3 million of the budget covers the preparation of the site and improving the green space for the public's use at the former Mt. Pleasant Elementary School site that the city purchased from the school district in 2015.

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