Happy Valley has scored a major victory in the ongoing saga to take over management of local parks from Clackamas County.
On Sept. 18, the Oregon Tax Court ruled that the city can begin collecting taxes for park maintenance and contruction, at the same tax rate previously collected by the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District. County Assessor Tami Little said her office will comply with the tax court order that the Oregon Department of Revenue approve the withdrawal.
In May, more than 70 percent of Happy Valley voters agreed with the city's proposal to maintain the tax rate of 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for parks for the next five years. Retroactive to July 1, NCPRD will no longer assess its permanent district tax rate within Happy Valley, where the median home has been paying approximately $160 a year in annual property taxes to NCPRD.
With the tax court decision, the city now will raise about $1.5 million annually for parks and recreation. The latest decision invalidates the state's decision in June rescinding the boundary approval, and reinstates its original March approval of the boundary change.
"With the recent ruling from the tax court, we are excited the city is one step closer to becoming the parks and recreation provider for Happy Valley," said Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer. "The residents spoke in May by overwhelmingly supporting our parks levy. Now the tax court has spoken. ... We are also grateful that our residents will not be double-taxed for the same service as a result of this ruling."
However, county officials have filed another lawsuit against Happy Valley in Circuit Court that could still prevent the city from becoming the parks provider. County representatives say the tax court ruling did not address the issue of whether the city used the appropriate statute to withdraw from NCPRD. The immediate operational effect of the ruling means that NCPRD will continue to own parks within Happy Valley but cannot collect the revenue needed to pay for operations or maintenance for about 78 acres of parks within Happy Valley.
"We are surprised by this ruling, and we are assessing its effects, including making a decision on how or whether we will manage our assets within Happy Valley, given that we will no longer have a funding source," said Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard.
Happy Valley officials pointed out that prior to the May vote, Clackamas County had consistently offered to support a smooth transition in parks services.
"We hope Clackamas County will work with us to drop their additional lawsuit in Circuit Court so we can begin to serve the residents of Happy Valley while providing certainty to the rest of the district," Chavez-DeRemer said.
Areas within the remaining NCPRD district include the city of Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Jennings Lodge and various other areas of unincorporated Clackamas.