The Brookings City Council plans to send a letter to the state in opposition to two bills addressing how the state would ensure Curry County stays fiscally solvent if voters defeat the May 21 property tax question.
The question asks voters to increase property taxes $1.84 per $1,000 assessed valuation for those living in cities and $1.97 for those living in unincorporated Curry County to keep county law enforcement at minimum levels.
The legislation being discussed — House Bill 2206 and House Bill 2168 — outline how the state Department of Administrative Services will take over county services and charge the county for providing them, should the election question fail.
House Bill 2206 would involve staffing the finance, tax collection, elections and assessor’s offices — the offices about which the state has most concern — and withholding from the county the money due for the services they provide. The money collected for those services would come from property taxes received; remaining funds would proportionately be disbursed to all the special districts for which the entire sum was collected.
“This establishes a new public policy, whereby the state can seize city property tax revenue and give it to another taxing jurisdiction,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “It fails to recognize that the voters in cities and other local taxing jurisdictions have determined the appropriate level of service for their community and the appropriate property tax rate to support that level of service.”
The letter also notes that the bill would set a precedent of legislative interference in the allocation of local property tax revenue.
Taxing entities are unsure how that would affect the revenue they were supposed to collect, although the bill indicates the state could collect “up to” 20 percent of the money to recoup its costs for providing county services.
House Bill 2168, proposed by Rep. Wayne Krieger, would allow the state to take all the proceeds from the sale of tax-delinquent and foreclosed properties. The city’s letter asks Krieger to withdraw the bill.
“That bill fails to recognize that other taxing jurisdictions, including cities, also suffer a revenue loss from tax delinquencies and should receive a portion of the proceeds of the sale — as is the current practice,” Milliman said. “This sets a precedent of designating counties as having a superior position in recovering property tax revenues.”
He said the League of Oregon Cities’ plans to oppose the bills, as well.
“The League of Oregon Cities’ concern is that it opens the door to state legislature deciding the redistribution of all the county tax rates,” Milliman said. “It seems to me to be another level of authority on how taxes will be distributed — without input.”
Some council members again noted the inequity of tax revenue collected and distributed to cities and the county. That is a bone of contention among member of the Brookings City Council in the upcoming election, as they feel the difference between what city residents would pay in county taxes and that of those in rural areas isn’t enough.
“When the counties got lots of timber money, very little was shared with the cities,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “There was no road money. There was money for the Sheriff’s Office, but not the police departments. This unfair balance has been going on over a long period of time, and now the funds are drying up, it seems like they want cities to make up for the loss of those funds.”
Councilor Jake Pieper said he anticipates further cannibalizing of city tax revenues, and that local sovereignty is being stepped on more and more.
“These bills would take all the taxes to the county and ignore what is due to the cities,” Hedenskog said. “All the proceeds from the sales — even the money owed other districts; they’d suffer that loss, too. It would all go to the county. The citizens did not approve city tax rates to fund the county.”