County puts good news, tax info in newsletter

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer October 01, 2013 09:03 pm

The Curry County Board of Commissioners wants to spread a little good news about county activities — and information about an upcoming ballot tax — in the form of a newsletter to debut in tax bills this month.

“I think people are eager to hear the positive,” said Commissioner David Brock Smith, in a recent special meeting. “I’d like to get some positiveness out there.”


Topics could include economic development opportunities the county is pursuing, including the Healthy Forest Collaborative, ReHome Oregon’s endeavor to help residents of older manufactured homes, wind energy and a pyrolysis plant in Ophir.

At first, Smith didn’t receive much support from Commissioner Susan Brown — Commissioner David Itzen was absent — who said she thought paper newsletters were archaic, expensive and ineffective.

Brown said she believes the county’s website might be a better media outlet for commissioners’ news.

In the premiere newsletter are details of the county’s proposed property tax rate hike, on which voters will decide Nov. 5. Each landowner in the county’s tax rolls, he said, could receive one customized for their property, he proposed, complete with figures on the exact tax that landowner will pay if voters approve Measure 8-73 this fall.

One side of the newsletter features pie charts explaining where tax revenue will go; the other side provides answers to frequently asked questions.

One column of the newsletter is dedicated brief outlines of what two county offices do and who they serve.

That measure asks voters to increase property taxes $1.3450 per $1,000 assessed valuation; revenue would specifically be spent on county public safety. A similar proposal failed in May.

“We have a fact sheet on one side and positive information on the other,” Smith said. “There are citizens who think their whole tax bill is going to triple. This will show what their assessment will be; that way, they can see it in black and white. It’s just a way to get it out to all these people in Curry County who own property and have a vested interest.

“Another important piece (of information) is that the board will reduce the tax any time federal safety net revenue is received,” Smith said. “It will read that the money would only be used to sustain levels in (public safety). And citizens will have the opportunity to go to the website and use the tax levy calculator.”

A tax calculator is on the county’s website, www.co.curry.or.us, where individuals can type in the assessed value of their property and determine their new tax rate.

Smith went so far as to obtain approval from the Secretary of State’s office for his first edition of “Wild Rivers Coast Review” and its insertion into tax bills. They will be mailed Oct. 7.

Because it is a fact sheet and not specifically endorsing the issue, it is permissible under state law, said Jennifer Hertel, compliance specialist with the Secretary of State’s office.

“Campaigning is the bar you have to look at,” she said. “We did review and approve it. A publication can provide factual information as long as it’s not advocating one way or the other.”

It is different than the situation that got the city of Brookings in trouble last year when the city attorney crafted a petition regarding county home rule. The idea was to allow interested citizens to obtain a copy and then collect signatures to change the county general law construct to home rule.

“Those are two different things,” Hertel said. “Setting something forward is much different than creating a publication that talks about factual information that’s already on the ballot.”

The city, she said, was publicly advocating for an issue, whereas the county’s newsletter is informational and not considered campaigning.

Regardless how commissioners decide to disseminate information about the proposed tax rate increase, Tax Assessor Jim Kolan pointed out many single residents own many individual parcels — residential, commercial, industrial and logging among them — throughout the county, and that they’d receive a newsletter for each property.

 He also noted that proposal would mean newsletters would only be sent to homeowners and skip renters, thus failing to reach a large portion of the county who will cast votes Nov. 5.

“You don’t want to send it to every account in the county; you’d be sending a couple thousand to South Coast Lumber alone,” Kolan said. “In Josephine County, there was some confusion, and they got complaints on that.”

The board plans to continue work with its information technology department regarding updating the website to deliver news about county work.

And Smith can’t wait to print and distribute what he believes is the next round of good news: That voters approved the tax measure to help put the county back on track to fiscal solvency.