911 district faces lawsuit over text on May ballot
A Scappoose resident has filed a lawsuit in Columbia County Circuit Court against the Columbia 911 Communications District and its board of directors after a typo appeared on the May ballot.
The lawsuit, filed by Tyler Miller of Scappoose through his legal counsel, Tyler Smith, on June 21, seeks a declaration that the "911 District may not assess more than '.29 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, or $29 per year'."
On the May ballot, the 911 district asked county voters to renew a five-year operating levy, which is assessed on top of the permanent tax rate. Voters last approved a five-year operating levy in 2013.
Executive Director Mike Fletcher and Board President Rob Anderson have stated that the ballot measure was intended to renew the current levy rate of 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, but reporting by The Daily News in Longview shortly before the election pointed out the ballot text asked voters to approve .29 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — 1/100th the intended value.
The measure received 6,760 votes in favor, and 2,390 votes in opposition.
"Accordingly, the maximum 911 District levy any property owner can be taxed is $29 plus the permanent rate and every other property owner should be assessed $0.0029 multiplied by their own assessed property value," the lawsuit states.
Following the election, the board has held two executive session meetings —May 30 and June 27 — to consult with legal counsel to discuss its options.
The lawsuit also states, "... on May 30, the 911 board met and discussed moving forward to charge 29 cents per $1,000 of tax assessed value, instead of .29 cents per $1,000 of tax assessed value as specified in the ballot measure language. The 911 board proposes to charge a tax rate 100 times larger than the rate advertised in the ballot statement and noticed in the ballot question and ballot summary."
After the May executive session, Fletcher said he spoke with the district's legal counsel and the Special Districts Association of Oregon to determine next steps, at the direction of the board.
Fletcher explained the district had three options to address the issue: do nothing and let the Assessor's Office determine how to implement the rate; file a validation lawsuit so that the district would petition the court to have a judge rule on what levy rate should be implemented; or — what ultimately happened — wait for a citizen to file a lawsuit or petition to the courts.
With the two latter options, Fletcher said the results will be the same either way and, "a judge will tell us what we need to do," he explained.
The district's legal staff was preparing to file a validation lawsuit in district court, Fletcher said, when Miller filed the civil suit.
Fletcher added that if a judge rules for the district to implement the tax rate at a fraction of a cent per $1,000 of assessed value, which would result in a loss of collected tax revenue for the district overall, 911 officials would likely just ask voters to vote on a new operating levy at the correct rate in the fall.
During a board meeting on June 27, the board moved to postpone approval of a resolution which would accept the election results and implement a rate of "twenty nine (.29) cents per $1,000 of assessed value."
The lawsuit also seeks to have Miller reimbursed for court fines for bringing the case forward.