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Ballot deadline looming for county tax proposals

County commissioners debated briefly about what kind of revenue boosters they could put on the November ballot: a 3 percent sales tax with exemptions? A 1 percent sales tax with no exemptions? A property tax increase? A little of both?

But it all could be a moot point, county attorney Jerry Herbage noted at a county commissioners meeting Wednesday.

In all likelihood, the board has probably run out of time to get anything on the November ballot.

 

The county has an Aug. 20 deadline to develop the details for a ballot issue. It then must hold two public hearings, a minimum of 13 days apart from one another.

Herbage noted that, if the commissioners had something to read by their next meeting, Aug. 8, and read it again at the meeting after that, Aug. 22 – two days beyond the deadline. To get anything on the ballot would require a special meeting.

It’s not out of the question, but not very likely, said Commissioner George Rhodes.

“At this point, unless there’s a significant change based on what Commissioner (David) Itzen has worked on (Oregon’s Kitchen Table), there likely wouldn’t be anything on until next year,” he said. “It’s scary.”

Oregon’s Kitchen Table is a website project designed to give Oregonians the chance to weigh in on the state’s most urgent public policy issues.

Itzen still wanted to know how much an across-the-board sales tax, at various percentages, would bring to the county. Commissioner Bill Waddle agreed.

“Add in the exemptions – prescriptions, car sales – and you still have fuel, food stamps, newspapers and alcohol,” he said. “Will a 2 percent sales tax bring in the same revenue as a 3 percent tax with exemptions? I am not in favor of putting anything on the ballot that does not generate a sufficient level of revenue.”

The Oregon Department of Revenue and Oregon Legislative Revenue Officer Paul Warner have predicted that a 3 percent sales tax, even with a long list of exemptions, would raise $5.04 million a year for Curry County.

If the board doesn’t hold a special meeting, the revenue issue would be left to the next commissioner’s board in January, which would have just over a week to create something to go on the March 2013 ballot.

Rhodes said it doesn’t make sense to put a tax initiative on the ballot voters are likely to reject.

 “Most of the voters are getting mixed signals,” he said. “Some people are saying we can do this by making cuts, that we don’t need any revenue. But the board has been  saying all along that it’s not just a matter of making cuts, but increasing revenue. We don’t have enough revenue to provide services at the level we’re providing.”

He also has been vocal in his opposition to the federal government allocating $1 million through a transportation bill to the O&C counties. Rhodes said he feels O&C counties should have collectively made a statment and returned the funds.

“This small amount, in our case, represents about two months operating capital,” he said. “The reality is, for the whole organization – and country – this is about forest management. We need to have access to manage these resources. It would help rural communities – and the federal government. They’re actually spending money they don’t have.” 

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