Want a vibrant community? Sometimes you gotta pay
For most, it's an ugly word. For some, it's a fighting word synonymous with "theft."
There are also those who examine proposed services and weigh the benefit, or potential benefit, of those services against the associated personal expense. For that examination to be effective, however, it needs to be viewed through the lens of the best interest for the community, not just in relation to the individual.
Two tax initiatives appearing on local ballots on the Nov. 5 election warrant just such examination.
Measure 5-275 — Scappoose gas tax
The Scappoose City Council is proposing to establish a 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax on all fuel sold in the Scappoose city limits for the next 10 years, at which time it would sunset absent voter renewal. Revenue generated from the tax would be used to improve sidewalks and roads in the city. If passed, the tax is expected to generate around $300,000 annually.
Promoters of Measure 5-275 point to information provided by city staffers indicating most fuel purchases in the city occurs by motorists who don't live in Scappoose. It's a compelling argument: Essentially, outsiders are going to pay the majority expense for Scappoose residents to have a better standard of community living.
A 3-cent hike per gallon of fuel purchased is unlikely enough to make a passing motorist avoid Scappoose gas stations in favor of those in St. Helens or elsewhere, at least in the current economic climate. Motorists passing into Multnomah County and Portland — the latter having the steepest fuel tax in the area except for the state of Washington — on the hunt for cheaper fuel would come up short. Just a couple years ago, in 2016, for instance, Portland voters approved a four-year gas tax that placed fuel in Portland among the highest priced in the state.
The Scappoose proposal seems spot on for the potential to generate new revenue without being too much of a burden, even to those who live in the city. Not to mention fuel prices are expected to drop over the span of 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
From our perspective, it's a good deal that will help the city address its ballooning street maintenance backlog, which is creeping toward $2 million, and would fund needed sidewalk projects to improve pedestrian safety. The collected revenue could also be leveraged to secure state grant dollars to tap programs such as Oregon Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to Schools program.
Measure 5-275 easily gets our vote.
Measure 5-277 — Columbia County Rider
Transit Service District
Measure 5-277 was always going to be controversial. The refrain of "empty buses" and "no need for bus service in rural Columbia County" blares from detractors of the CC Rider program, which many consider a boondoggle.
We disagree. To the first point, people do use the bus, including student commuters to Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus, elderly and low-income residents who need to grocery shop or make it to health care appointments, and commuters who work in Portland. The morning and evening commuter bus to Portland is full, just check the litany of vehicles parked in Scappoose, along the railroad tracks off Columbia Avenue, for evidence. That's just one park-and-ride.
There are times, unquestionably, when buses don't have as many riders, in part because the commuter routes cater to morning-to-evening work schedules. At 1 p.m., for example, those buses will be more vacant than the final evening return bus from Portland.
There are few public transit systems in the U.S. that exist absent government or tax subsidies. To date, CC Rider has relied predominately on grants, which can be inconsistent, and fares. The benefit of a tax district is that it would create a stable operational foundation and would allow for the transit system's growth, even as Columbia County — and especially the areas of Scappoose and St. Helens — continues to grow.
Overwhelmingly industries, such as those being pursued at the burgeoning Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center Research & Development in Scappoose, factor the strength of public transit systems into their decision about where to develop a new site. As OMIC R&D develops, so too will the need for public transit to access it as a campus, including commuters coming from Portland to Scappoose. Columbia County residents have a chance to get ahead of that demand now via Measure 5-277.
On the healthcare front, Mimi Haley, the executive director of the Columbia Coordinated Care Organization, points out that lack of stable transportation is a major social determinant for access to health care in Columbia County (see "Columbia County to ride new wave of healthcare coordination," A4). A stable CC Rider system would help remedy the problem.
While we're sensitive to the notion that taxes add up over time, the CC Rider ask is minimal when compared to the potential societal value it would yield. At only 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, a household valued at $250,000 would pay only $45 annually.
And lastly, to those who argue they never use CC Rider system, think about how often you have called the police. Or the fire department. Or, for that matter, the public library or any other tax-funded amenity. While these services may not be part of your personal, day-to-day experiences, they are critical components of a healthy, vibrant community.
We believe public transportation is as well and urge a yes vote for Measure 5-277.
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