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Commissioners approve effort to place transit tax measure on November ballot

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County commissioners at a Wednesday, Feb. 27, meeting to discuss permanent funding options for CC Rider. Pictured left to right: Todd Wood confers with Commissioners Alex Tardif, Henry Heimuller, and Margaret Magruder. In a push to secure long-term sustainable funding for CC Rider, Columbia County commissioners are moving ahead with a ballot measure to create a transit service district funded by property tax revenue.

Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 27, to direct county staff to start working on language for a ballot measure that would create a service district for CC Rider.

If approved, property owners would pay 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on their homes and land, generating an estimated $1 million in new revenue for CC Rider.

Commissioners and county staff said they hope to put the measure out to voters in November.

"It's been analyzed for as many years as I can remember, that a million dollars of local money is about what we needed," Commissioner Henry Heimuller said.

Todd Wood, transit director of CC Rider, said the proposed tax amount was formulated using research from economic consulting firm ECONorthwest.

"What we found is that a rate of 18 cents per thousand would bring us ... approximately $1 million," Wood told commissioners and county staff.

The estimated annual revenue includes factors like uncollectible tax accounts and compression.

"We landed on 18 cents simply because that put us in line with most of our peers," Wood noted. Columbia County is one of the only transit agencies in the state that isn't supported by property taxes or some other permanent funding source. Currently, the agency relies heavily on grant funding and limited state and federal transit dollars.

Commissioners said a service district is the best option for addressing CC Rider's long-term funding and ensuring bus services are maintained.

"I think if we're going to keep transit alive in Columbia County, our options are pretty limited," Commissioner Margaret Magruder said last Wednesday.

In late January, commissioners approved substantial cuts to CC Rider bus services in an effort to reduce the agency's expenses amid major budget deficits and funding gaps.

John Dreeszen, CC Rider's finance manager, said a service district differs from a special district or even a transit district.

"We really would not be any different than we are now," Dreeszen explained. "Just a county department governed by the board of commissioners. The difference is, as a service district, you could have a permanent rate. If we wanted to go for more than 18 cents, it would take a whole new ballot measure."

Robin McIntyre, an in-house attorney for Columbia County, said the county would need approval from each of the incorporated cities before pitching the service district to voters.

"It's getting time where you need to make a decision," McIntyre said.

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