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Clackamas County responds that it plans to leave incorporation decisions to local residents

In a letter to Clackamas County commissioners last month, two Milwaukie city councilors attempted to shed light on concerns they share with how urban services are inequitably delivered between cities and unincorporated areas.

Milwaukie Council President Angel Falconer and Councilor Lisa Batey issued a letter to the board dated July 9 asking the county to consider "getting out of the urban services business" in an attempt to balance an increasingly strained budget.

According to the letter, unincorporated areas account for approximately 106,000 county residents, and residents in those areas expect the upkeep of their streets, sidewalks and infrastructure to be funded by county dollars. The inverse is true of cities, where local residents pay a monthly street fee between $4 and $14 per month.

"We are, frankly, fairly convinced that those of us living in cities are subsidizing urban services and infrastructure for the unincorporated area with the county share on our tax bills," the letter said. "Confirming or ruling that out is not easily done from looking at the county's budget, and we encourage you to provide some real analysis of that ahead of your next budget cycle."

Batey and Falconer's letter also states that they were recently apprised of lobbying efforts by the Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization (CPO) to gain access to dollars from Metro's Get Moving 2020 grant measure to fund sidewalks within their area.

"Sidewalks are commonly the responsibility of cities, and in a growing number of cities — including Milwaukie, Sherwood and Corvallis — residents pay a monthly fee to support the construction of more sidewalks," the letter said. "Milwaukie even bonded against this fee to speed up the construction of sidewalks, hired additional engineers, and a robust program for building sidewalks to connect neighborhoods to schools and commercial areas is under way."

Batey and Falconer encouraged the board of county commissioners to consider ushering along conversations in both Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge around either annexing within the local cities that surround them or incorporating themselves to reach their infrastructure goals.

"Getting out of the urban services business is not an overnight phenomenon, but planning and moving toward that goal would be an important step toward treating county residents equitably as well as putting the county budget on a more secure footing," the letter said.

According to Batey, she's had conversations with a Lisa Bateycouple city councilors in Happy Valley who share her and Falconer's concern over subsidizing the construction of road and sidewalk infrastructure outside their own jurisdiction. Other than that, Batey said she hadn't heard any response from elected officials in Gladstone, Oregon City, West Linn, Lake Oswego and Wilsonville who received copies of the letter.

On July 21, County Chair Jim Bernard responded to Falconer and Batey's letter by thanking them for sharing their concerns and laying out his own view on the issues.

Bernard pointed out that the funding Jennings Lodge CPO is lobbying to receive comes from Metro and state and federal grants, along with state highway funds comprised of gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, which all residents pay into.

In terms of helping to fast-track incorporation discussion in both Jennings Lodge and Oak Grove, Bernard said the board is leaving those decisions to local residents.

"As I'm sure you know, incorporation efforts in this area have been discussed by community members and the commissioners many times over the last 10 years. While there are various thoughts on this issue, one thing the board has agreed on is that it is necessary that this be a grassroots, community-led initiative," Bernard said. "The commissioners will not decide or make changes to the local governance structure for the many residents of these communities. The county has committed to assisting the community in their endeavor when they are ready to move forward."

This week, Batey told Pamplin Media Group that she wasn't satisfied with the county's response because it did not respond to her assertion that city residents are subsidizing projects in unincorporated areas through the use of county staff time in planning and building infrastructure.

"I think that as we progress through this budget cycle, that is something I will continue to press them on to do some accounting," Batey said. "Nobody has any incentive to annex because the county goes on providing them with services and they pay lower taxes than if they were part of a city. I can't say I blame them, I mean, who wants to pay more taxes? But they want to have their cake and eat it too, basically."


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