Brookings City Councilor Kelly McClain didn’t like the numbers at which Curry County Commissioner David Brock Smith arrived in determining what tax levies should be presented to voters on May 21.
In that measure, voters will be asked to increase property taxes by $1.84 per $1,000 assessed valuation for those living within city boundaries and $1.97 per $1,000 for those who live in unincorporated Curry County.
That’s a difference of 13 cents per $1,000.
Under the formula McClain used, city denizens would pay $1.16 per $1,000 assessed valuation and those living in unincorporated Curry County would pay $2.35 per $1,000.
That’s a difference of $1.19 per $1,000.
The wording of the county tax measure is set in stone, so McLain numbers are purely speculative.
Currently, Curry County collects 59 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to fill its general fund and operate the public safety, assessor’s, finance, elections and other departments. That fund has taken a major hit since timber revenues from O&C lands decreased and ended last year.
The tax increase would generate $4.5 million for the county’s general fund.
Smith arrived at the figures for the ballot question by determining the percentage of county services used by Curry County’s cities — Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford — and the percentage used by people who live in rural areas.
“I appreciate Councilman McClain looking at this situation,” Smith said. “But it’s more realistic and fair to look at resources used by folks living in the cities and those living out of the cities.”
Many city councilors in the county asked why there is such a narrow difference — 13 cents — between the two. So, out of curiosity, McClain took it upon himself to examine the numbers.
McClain shared his methodology at a council work session Monday afternoon.
He took the total assessed valuation of property in various Oregon counties and divided that by the number of people living within the cities and rural areas within those counties.
“We know that we have the second lowest tax rate in the state,” McClain said. “But if you look at the assessed value, it’s the sixth highest per person in the state. To assess the cities only 13 cents less is so unfair.”
According to his data, assessed valuations per person are $105,000 in Curry County. Counties with higher valuations per person range from the top rate of $147,000 in Tillamook County and $107,000 in Deschutes County.
He then extrapolated what he believes is a more fair tax levy for each, based on population, not use.
“I just find it hard to believe the city has that many more mean people than the county,” he said of Smith’s numbers that indicate most criminal offenders live in the cities and thus use more of the jail, juvenile and probation services than their rural counterparts.
“I have a hard time believing that (the majority of) the juvenile delinquents come from cities,” he said. “It’s probably a more even split.”
Smith countered, saying he believes once the county is on its feet again, it is likely the cities will again use more county services. He also questioned McClain’s numbers.
“He has the Harbor substation being used 100 percent by people who live in unincorporated areas,” Smith said. “The citizens of Brookings use the Harbor substation quite often.
“Emergency services? The port wouldn’t have been able to receive any FEMA disaster relief funds if it wasn’t for county’s emergency services. The federal government and state only recognize the county as a conduit for resources coming in.
And the same with search and rescue. Ninety percent?” he added. “Only people from the unincorporated areas get lost?”
All in the numbers
Brookings city councilors said they were more amenable to McClain’s numbers, which represent a difference of $1.19 per $1,000 between city and county residents.
“That would be reasonable,” said Councilor Brent Hodges, “I’d be more willing to think about something like that, than a 13-cent difference.”
Curry County Commissioner Dave Itzen disagreed Tuesday, saying, “His math doesn’t make sense. It’s statistics, and how you look at them.”
Unbeknownst to McClain, City Finance Director Janell Howard was doing a little number-crunching of her own — and arrived at figures that were only one penny different than McClain’s.
All three of the county’s city councils have yet to decide whether or not to support the ballot measure — and Brookings is most adamant in its opposition, saying the county should have looked at its operations years ago and acted then.
If the tax levy fails, the county will have to operate its general fund budget on $2.1 million it collects from its 59-cent property tax — the second lowest in Oregon. Even with the measure’s approval, Curry County would still have the second-lowest tax rate in the state, county commissioners are quick to note.
McClain also questioned how Smith arrived at the percentages he did regarding the amount of county services used by city and rural residents.
“There’s more to it than the tax rate,” McClain said, noting that he ran the numbers merely because Smith’s numbers didn’t sit right with him. “You have to take the assessed valuation and the tax rate. But it doesn’t change anything; the county’s still broke.”
The council continues to wonder where other cuts could be made within county government, and why the county seems unwilling to consider operating under a county manager. McClain noted that under every scenario presented by county commissioners, their salaries remained the same.
“I don’t know if it actually means anything,” McClain said of his figures. “But it was a different way of looking at things.”