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Ballot measure 5-287 would increase property tax levy over last five-year levy.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Columbia City had an estimated population of 1,957 last year.Columbia City will ask voters for a new property tax levy to fund police services this May.

Property owners in the city, which has less than 2,000 residents, currently pay an annual $0.67 per $1,000 in assessed value, which equals $134 for a house assessed at $200,000.

The May ballot measure would increase the rate to $0.90 per $1,000 in assessed value, meaning $180 for a $200,000 home.

The last five-year levy was approved in 2016, with 61.4% of Columbia City voters in favor. The levy was first approved in 2011 by a smaller margin, with 51.1% of voters supporting the measure.

Under Oregon law, taxing districts like cities or fire districts can't increase their permanent tax rate, but they can ask voters to approve temporary levies for up to five years for operations or 10 years for construction projects.

Columbia City's permanent tax rate is $1.13 per $1,000 in assessed value.

"Part of the challenge we've had all along is we've got the lowest tax rate of any city in the county," Columbia City Mayor Casey Wheeler said. The city's permanent tax rate is actually the second-lowest in the county, behind only Prescott, which has less than 90 residents.

Columbia City also has few businesses contributing toward income tax revenue, even compared to Columbia County overall.

Over the five-year period, the proposed levy would raise an estimated $861,016 for police protection services. Approximately $163,805 would be raised in the next tax year.

The ballot measure description said that if the measure is approved, the city "will continue to use tax revenues from this measure to provide basic police protection services."

"Basically it's either you vote yes and services are maintained at the current level, or you vote no and we're looking at a pretty drastic cutback," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the rate increase was due to rising costs. Although the rate does not increase without voter approval, the revenue from the levy and the city's permanent tax rate gradually increases as the assessed value of property increases.

If the levy was renewed at the current rate, the department would still have to shrink somewhat, Wheeler said.

If the ballot measure fails, the tax will end entirely, not stay at the $0.67 rate. Wheeler said city councilors felt confident that voters would still support the higher rate. The 2016 renewal "passed overwhelmingly, and there's been strong support for the police department here in the past," Wheeler said.

Operating the Columbia City police department is budgeted at $431,204 for the current fiscal year, which is more than the city expected in total property tax revenue — including both the permanent tax and the levy — for the year.

Columbia City has equivalent to three full-time police officers, plus volunteer reserve officers. That equals roughly 652 residents for each officer, based on 2021 populations.

Neighboring St. Helens has 19 sworn officers, equaling 766 residents per officer. Scappoose has 11 officers, for 729 residents per officer.


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