State reversal throws Happy Valley park plans a curve
State officials have thrown an unexpected monkey-wrench into a May 15 ballot measure establishing a five-year local option levy for Happy Valley parks and recreation services with the same assessed tax rate as Clackamas County's parks district.
Starting July 1, everyone expected that the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District would no longer assess its permanent taxing rate within Happy Valley. However, Oregon Department of Revenue officials on June 19 rescinded an approved request by Happy Valley to withdraw from NCPRD boundaries.
Happy Valley officials referred the levy to voters with the understanding that NCPRD would not tax Happy Valley residents after July 1. Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 3-526, by more than 70 percent.
"Upon further review," Rebecca Hall, a manager in the state's property tax division, has determined that the city wasn't the correct governmental agency to file the withdrawal request. State officials had formally approved Happy Valley's request for withdrawal on March 7.
"The department [of revenue] has determined the authority responsible for determining whether this particular boundary change is final is the Clackamas County Board and not the City of Happy Valley," Hall wrote.
Clackamas County isn't planning to request the boundary change. "We are as surprised as the residents of Happy Valley at this turn of events, but we're going to comply with state law," said NCPRD Director Scott Archer. "A lot of work from our staff went into this assumed withdrawal. We had already sent numerous notifications to the residents of Happy Valley announcing this change, and we had been gearing up to keep things operating as smoothly as possible."
In one such action, county officials had started charging Happy Valley residents higher out-of-district fees for district programs beginning after July 1. County officials announced the change in an April 10 press release.
Now that the state has reversed its position on the legality of Happy Valley's withdrawal, county officials say they "will be providing refunds for the difference in the coming weeks" to city residents who paid higher fees. "Also, Happy Valley residents will continue receiving all of the in-district program rates and registration priorities available to all NCPRD residents," Archer said.
As a result of the state's reversal, the NCPRD Budget Committee reconvened to amend its approved fiscal year 2018/19 budget to reflect the additional property tax revenue and expenditures related to providing services to NCPRD residents who live in the city of Happy Valley.
'Eager to provide these services'
Happy Valley officials have to decide whether to assess a local option levy. City officials say that they were shocked by the development and dispute the Department of Revenue's decision to rescind its previous approval. "Once again, the county isn't listening to what our residents want," said Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer. "The levy to fund park maintenance and operations locally was approved by voters at 72 percent, and residents are eager to move forward on local park and recreational services. The action of Clackamas County in contesting the withdrawal now ignores the will of the voters and does not have the best interests of their Happy Valley constituents in mind."
County officials say that the county assessor's office operates independently by statute. To process the boundary change in county records, several months ago the assessor's office asked the state to review whether the appropriate statute had been followed for the NCPRD withdrawal.
County officials had repeatedly promised they would not stand in the way of Happy Valley's withdrawal. Clackamas County's attorneys have said in court that they believed the city properly withdrew from the park district. "As we are currently involved in a legal dispute with NCPRD over the return of Happy Valley SDC dollars, it is no surprise that this split is contentious. However, we do not believe the Department of Revenue should be involved and further complicate this legal issue," Chavez-DeRemer said.
County officials said, despite their concerns about the city's process for withdrawing from NCPRD, they never objected to how the city attempted to withdraw from the district. Happy Valley officials say they will "forge ahead" in developing parks/recreation services, taking into account the input and efforts contributed by community members and city staff over the last year.
"It's frustrating, to say the least, that this is only surfacing at the 11th hour," Chavez-DeRemer said. "Our citizens and staff have contributed a tremendous amount of work to date to make this program successful for the community. We know the community is excited to see what parks and recreation services will look like in Happy Valley, and we are still eager to provide these services. In the end, we want what is best for our residents. I think that should be the goal of any government entity. We will continue to serve our residents in the best way we can, providing them with the service they deserve and pay for through their taxes."
Serving unincorporated areas
The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District was formed in 1990, and Happy Valley was annexed into the district in 2006.
Including Happy Valley and Milwaukie, NCPRD serves more than 122,000 residents. Of these, more than 80,000 live in unincorporated northern Clackamas County including Oak Grove/Jennings Lodge, and unincorporated near Milwaukie and Happy Valley.
The district owns or operates parks totaling more than 78 acres within Happy Valley, including Mt. Talbert Nature Park. In addition, NCPRD operates the 35-acre Hood View Park through an agreement with North Clackamas School District, which owns the site.
Editor, Clackamas Review/Oregon City News
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