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New version includes major proect spending category with $20 million for Willamette Falls project

PMG FILE PHOTO - Metro is working to open up more of the Chehalem Ridge Natural Area near Gaston.Much about Metro's natural area bond measure will be familiar to those who voted on any of the elected regional government's previous four proposals to buy, rehabilitate and maintain open spaces.

There are some significant differences with the one on the Nov. 5 special election ballot, however. They include a more substantial commitment among supporters to benefit marginalized communities and a new large-scale project spending category that reserves $20 million for the Metro-backed Willamette Falls project in Oregon City.

Measure 26-203 would authorize $475 million in general obligation bonds for regional property purchases and programs that will protect the environment and better connect residents to nature. Like the previous measures approved by voters between 1995 and 2006, this measure is supported by a broad coalition of environmental, community, business, and labor organizations. They argue it will benefit the entire region, especially by protecting and improving water quality in local rivers and streams.

Like previous measures, it is opposed by the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, and the fiscally conservative Taxpayers Association of Oregon. They argue it is an unjustified slush fund that raises housing and business costs.

Passing the measure will not raise property tax rates because the second bond measure approved by voters in 2006 is set to expire. But it would raise significantly more money because the population and property values within Metro's boundaries have increased.

Metro voters approved nature-related bond measures in 1995 and 2006 to buy properties, and serial levies in 2013 and 2006 to rehabilitate and maintain them. The funds, which are estimated to total more than $490 million eventually, have helped Metro acquire and manage more than 17,000 acres of parks, trails and natural areas across every community in the region.

Like the bond measures approved in 1995 and 2006, the largest share of the money from Measure 26-203 will be spent to purchase properties, and many will likely be outside Metro's boundaries. Other funds will be given to local communities for nature-related projects in the form of grants.

Metro has increased its commitment to benefit marginalized groups with Measure 26-203. Low-income families and communities of color are included in the ballot title for the second time since the 2016 measure, but they were much more involved in drafting this measure. Helping them is also mentioned in more Voters Pamphlet pages supporting the measure this year, two of which are in languages other than English for the first time.

Perhaps the most significant change is the addition of a new spending category called "large-scale community visions."

The bond costs are estimated at $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed value annually, approximately $4 per month for the average homeowner.

$475 million Metro bond fund breakdown

Metro materials say $50 million of the bond funds are set aside for "projects that uplift communities by leveraging nature to achieve benefits such as job opportunities, affordable housing and safe, reliable transportation."

They will include projects done with public and private partners.

The materials say $20 million will be provided to the Willamette Falls Legacy Project and riverwalk in Oregon City that Metro is supporting.

Other spending categories and their amounts are:

• Protect and restore land, $155 million

• Support local projects, $92 million

• Nature in Neighborhood capital grants, $40 million

• Take care of Metro parks, $98 million

• Create trails for walking and biking, $40 million

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