By Richard Reid
Mayor Jim Clinton deserves credit for seeking accurate accounting of the costs of growth. Taxpayers deserve to know how much taxes and/or utility rates will increase to extend city services to annexed lands and a larger urban growth boundary.
How much can taxpayers afford?
Bend taxpayers have already funded infrastructure and services for community development and they must maintain that infrastructure for decades. Before adding more land for more houses, requiring more services, the city should audit these costs.
Clinton says it’s not “logical” for existing residents to finance the cost of expanding the UGB and annexing properties, but that’s the way it works. He’s right to nail down those costs before more land is added. Bend was hit hard by the worldwide economic collapse, and recovery may take years. The current city financial report is grim and tax revenues are too low to sustain current levels of services. Public safety, street maintenance and other basic services require “long-term funding solutions.”
Legitimate research reveals that growth doesn’t pay its way even when times are good. That’s why cities ask voters to pass bonds and go into debt to pay for growth. The city says funding basic services and keeping adequate general fund reserves is going to be tough.
The housing market is in a slump and the city can’t pay for current services, so why is the city trying to add land for faster growth?
Because the Central Oregon Builders Association wants the city to “speed up the process of expanding the city boundary.” But UGB expansion and annexation make property more eligible for development, and that eligibility increases land values. That is how UGB expansions and annexations create windfall profits for property owners. Principal Planner Brian Rankin is right: To help pay for growth, the city should get a share of the windfall profits UGB expansion and annexation create.
Unfortunately the state-required “20-year land supply” forces cities to keep 20 years of land inventory for growth. That’s one reason the city annexed the entire urban growth boundary in 1998. At that time, annexation voting law counted city and rural voters in a “combined vote” even though a majority of voters in a targeted area might reject an annexation. Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations lobbied for 10 years and successfully corrected that injustice with an amendment changing the “combined vote” to a true “double majority.” Today rural property owners targeted for forced annexation in Bend have a stronger voice. But more must be done to help communities grow better and not just bigger.
Bend taxpayers should petition for the right to vote on every single annexation. With OCVA guidance, dozens of communities across Oregon have amended their city charters and given themselves the right to approve all discretionary annexations. When Bend citizens get to vote on annexations, they will have much more control over when and where their community grows.
— Richard Reid lives in Salem.