Columbia 911 ballot dispute continues
The legal battle over the Columbia 911 Communications District's May ballot measure continued this week.
There are two ongoing legal actions in Columbia County Circuit Court stemming from the 911 district's May 21 ballot measure calling for a local option levy. Due to a misplaced decimal typo, one that was also present on numerous prior elections, the ballot measure had requested a five-year property tax rate of ".29 cents per $1,000" in assessed property value instead of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.
Scappoose resident and long-time critic of the 911 district, Tyler Miller, filed the lawsuit in June. The lawsuit claims the 911 district could only levy a tax of $.0029 per $1,000 in assessed value as that was the rate stated on the ballot measure approved by voters.
On Aug. 13, the Columbia 911 board of directors filed a petition for judicial validation, asking the court to review and validate the 911 board's resolution accepting the May election results as a rate of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.
While the ballot measure had listed the rate as .29 cents, the measure title described a "renewal" of the existing levy, which was 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value. The sample calculations included with the ballot measure also reflected a rate of 29 cents.
On Aug. 26, Miller filed a motion to dismiss that action.
A month later, Columbia 911 filed a motion to dismiss Miller's suit. The district also filed a motion requesting summary judgement, which would expedite the process by avoiding a full trial.
Earlier this week, Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove denied Miller's motion to dismiss the judicial validation action. Grove delayed ruling on Columbia 911's motion to dismiss Miller's suit until after a summary judgement decision is reached in the judicial validation action.
Attorneys for Columbia 911 argued that Miller's case should be dismissed because the issue was better served by a judicial validation action.
Court filings from Columbia 911's attorneys claim Miller's lawsuit was one of many attempts to disrupt the 911 district's operations.
"The plaintiff ran a losing campaign against the District's local option levy. And now he wants this Court to order what his campaign failed to do," wrote Blake Fry, an attorney for Columbia 911 with the firm Mersereau Shannon LLP.
Columbia 911 argued that the intent of the voters was clearly to approve a rate of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.
"There is no evidence that any voter — much less enough to have affected the outcome — voted to approve the District's request for a renewal of its local option levy because they mistakenly believed that the District was asking them to approve a local option levy that was only one percent of the rate that had long been in effect," Columbia 911 argued in court filings. The measure passed in May with 73.9% of votes.
A local option levy for Columbia 911 was first approved by voters in 1998 and was renewed continually. The levy renewal approved in 2004 included the same typo as the 2019 levy, but there was no legal challenge initiated.
Columbia 911 argued that Miller's complaint was essentially an elections contest, but that the specific circumstance wasn't one in which an elections contest is permitted. Election results can be contested when there are concerns about the vote itself, such as instances involving a mistake or fraud in distributing, collecting or counting ballots.
In court on Tuesday, Miller's attorney, Tyler Smith, said the election contest argument "is clearly erroneous."
Smith responded to Columbia 911's argument by saying there is no concern over the validity of the vote itself.
"As far as Plaintiff is concerned, the election was valid ... it simply does not authorize the District to levy and tax the amounts the District wants to tax," Smith wrote.
"The law required the District to put the exact tax rate in the ballot measure, and the District did so. Those facts are history that cannot be changed now," Smith wrote.
The court will address the motions for summary judgment at a hearing in January.
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