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Misplaced decimal prompted legal challenge; petitioner plans to appeal ruling

The legal challenge to the Columbia 911 Communications District's May 2019 levy vote is over, for now.

The ballot measure intended to ask voters to renew the existing levy rate of $0.29 per $1,000 in assessed value. But because of a typo, the measure stated the rate would be .29 cents, or 1/100th of the intended value.

The May ballot measure passed by a wide margin, with 74% of votes, but a lawsuit was soon filed by Tyler Miller, a Scappoose resident who also formerly worked on a communications project for Columbia 911.

Last month, Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove dismissed Miller's lawsuit.

Columbia 911 had made a separate legal filing last year seeking judicial validation of the election results. Grove agreed that the district could levy the tax at a rate of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.

Grove's judgement agreed with the district's stance but made little legal assessment.

Columbia 911 argued that voters knew the measure intended for a rate of 29 cents per $1,000 in assessed value because that was the rate voters had approved in the past and sample calculations included in the measure summary reflected the 29 cent rate, not .29 cents.

The district argued that the board had already approved a resolution certifying the election results at $0.29 per $1,000.

Both parties had made motions to dismiss the legal proceeding brought by the other party.

The levy accounts for a significant portion of the district's annual budget. In July, Columbia 911 Executive Director Mike Fletcher said that if the court determined the district could only levy a $.0029 per $1,000 rate, the district would most likely pursue a new ballot measure with the intended rate.

This week, Fletcher said the district "will let the court's findings and ruling speak for itself."

"I think we all anticipated the ruling to be what it was," Miller wrote in an email to the Spotlight.

"The decision is being appealed to the Oregon Appeals Court. Meanwhile, ORS 294.100 likely makes the 911 board of directors personally liable for the tax payer money spent, should the Appeals Court agree with my position that the 911 district has no authority to collect the tax rate they have already begun to collect. Legal counsel and I both agree there is a strong chance of prevailing at the Appeals Court level. The law is clear. That law is being ignored."


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