Report: Oak Lodge governance options 'financially feasible'
A Metro-funded study evaluating governance options for the Oak Lodge area has concluded that it is "financially feasible" to pursue any of three options: remaining an unincorporated community in Clackamas County, annexing into the city of Milwaukie or incorporating into a new city.
Taxes would increase significantly for approximately 28,000 residents of Oak Lodge if they became part of Milwaukie or a new city. According to the report, "The evaluation of fiscal impacts shows the study area would generate substantial revenues in either the annexation or incorporation option."
Property taxpayers in Oak Lodge currently average about $6,319 annually, but those charges are expected to go up to $7,314 annually by annexing into Milwaukie, or to $6,558 annually under the incorporation option. If Oak Lodge became part of Milwaukie or its own city, its citizens could expect higher taxes to go to improved police services, better sidewalks or other municipal services.
Oak Lodge Governance Project members said that city annexation would give residents better representation among elected officials. OLGP members say Clackamas County, which represents 427,000 people, is not structured to respond to the needs of an urban community of approximately 28,000 people.
"The Clackamas County Commission manages an area larger than Rhode Island, with much of the landmass located in rural areas outside Metro's urban-growth boundary," said OLGP steering committee member Cole Merkel. "A board with that much responsibility doesn't necessarily have the capacity to understand the nuanced needs of a growing, urban community."
Water and sanitary sewer would remain a function of Oak Lodge Water, according to the ECONorthwest study's assumptions. Clackamas Fire and the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District would also remain as service providers under all three governance options, meaning relatively stable costs and revenues for these services for the unincorporated urban community east of the Willamette River, south of Milwaukie and north of Gladstone.
In 2019, a small group of Oak Lodge residents coalesced OLGP around a shared frustration that the unincorporated status of their urban area made it nearly impossible for meaningful community-driven advocacy to lead to change.
"One of the commonalities among the steering group members is that our commitment to the OLGP is steeped in personal experiences," said OLGP member Mitra Anoushiravani. "We think it's important that our community understands why each of us is working toward OLGP's goals, and we hope within the varied experiences among us, community members will find that some of our stories reflect their own perspectives."
OLGP steering committee members seek to shift community disenfranchisement to community empowerment via data-driven, inclusive conversations about the possible adoption of a governance structure that allows residents to influence policies reflective of local needs. In 2020, to support the need for data, OLGP applied for, and was awarded, a $100,000 Metro grant to fund ECONorthwest's fiscal and governance analysis.
OLGP steering committee members say that the completion of the ECONorthwest report is an important step in the process of deciding future governance options for the area. OLGP looks forward to additional robust community conversations.
More information about the ongoing, community-led process is available at oaklodgegovernanceproject.org.
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