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Voters should support bond refinancing


The most important thing for voters to understand about the city of Milwaukie’s Measure 3-439, which appears on the May 20 ballot, is that it has nothing to do with whether light rail will come to the community.

For better or worse, light rail is arriving in Milwaukie. Construction of the Portland-to-Milwaukie MAX line passed the point of no return long ago. Measure 3-439 isn’t a referendum on MAX, but it does provide voters with a choice about how they want to pay for the city’s $4 million debt related to light rail construction.

Do voters want this debt to be paid from the general fund, which is the main source of revenue for police protection, library services and other essential city functions, or do they want to finance the debt through bonds?

We agree with city leaders who argue that issuing bonds is the better way to go. If voters approve Measure 3-439, the city should be able to sell general obligation bonds at a lower interest rate than what it currently is paying to TriMet on the $4 million obligation. The lower interest will save the city money, but the larger benefit is that the debt will be shifted from the general fund to 20-year bonds, eventually freeing up as much as $365,000 per year for the city’s regular operations.

We recognize that extension of light rail to Milwaukie has been a contentious issue. Voters, however, should keep in mind that the city’s $4 million share (which was coupled with $1 million in in-kind contributions) was a tiny drop in the nearly $1.5 billion bucket of cash for this project. For this small share, the city also received street, sidewalk and storm water improvements that were part of the overall MAX construction.

As the MAX line comes closer to completion, it’s easier to visualize how the streetscape improvements and modern MAX station will add to the aesthetic value of downtown Milwaukie. Whether MAX will win over some of its skeptics remains to be seen, but a voter does not have to be a fan of light rail to support Measure 3-439. This measure simply asks voters to consider the best way to pay down an irrevocable obligation.

The cost of this bond for taxpayers is modest. The typical property owner — someone whose house has an assessed value of $200,000 or less — will pay $3 per month or less if Measure 3-439 is approved. The alternative would be for the city to cut $200,000 to $365,000 out of the general fund each year. About half of general fund dollars are used for police and library services.

This bond measure has been endorsed by neighborhood associations in Milwaukie that understand the wisdom of preserving the general fund and avoiding cutbacks in personnel. Milwaukie voters should look favorably upon Measure 3-439 and protect the core services of the city while also retiring a legally binding debt.