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Critic's analysis of proposed levy is misleading

I want to take a moment to dispel a few misstatements of fact made in a Letter to the editor in Friday’s Outlook regarding the city of Gresham’s proposed Police, Fire and Parks Levy.

The city anticipates placing a five-year levy on the May 2014 ballot, with 95 percent of the revenue generated supporting police and fire services, and 5 percent supporting parks.

The revenue would replace the expiring $7.50-per-month fee that funds police, fire and parks, and would be placed in a dedicated and protected fund to be used only for the voter-approved purpose.

The letter writer questioned the city’s estimate for the average household levy cost, and if the city appropriately budgeted and dispersed the police, fire, and parks fee revenue.

But the writer’s analysis was flawed. Here’s why:

The city’s cost estimates are based on analysis of the actual tax assessed and real market values that Multnomah County determines for every property in the city.

The data that the letter writer refers to has no direct relation to the taxable assessed value used by the county to calculate actual property taxes and does not reflect the reduced payments that result from Oregon’s property tax reform measures.

Moreover, the city’s estimate is actually conservative, because it does not include the additional savings that could be realized because property taxes are income-tax deductible for many homeowners who itemize, while the fee revenue was not.

The letter writer also erroneously points to an increase in the total budget as an indication that additional revenues are available. In actuality, the adopted budget explains that the increase is the result of a one-time debt issuance taking advantage of low interest rates and refinancing some existing debt, which will actually reduce the cost of providing future services.

It is unfortunate that actions being taken to be fiscally prudent are instead being portrayed as wasteful or nonessential.

Regrettably, the writer ignored or overlooked a message in the budget document specifically warning readers that comparisons between years can be easily misconstrued given the way state law requires us to display grant awards and other dedicated funds in the budget.

As a result, his analysis of how the fee revenue was appropriated is inaccurate.

Of course, we would be the first to concede that municipal budgeting can be hard to understand.

That’s why members of the city’s volunteer Budget Committee, which is composed of regular citizens as well as the mayor and City Council, invest significant time and energy asking the kind of questions that must be asked to fully understand the budget document before it is adopted.

It’s also why we are willing to sit down with any citizen who asks (including the letter writer) to help sort through how funds are budgeted and used to provide high-quality, essential services for our residents.

Sharron Monohon is director of Budget and Financial Planning for the city of Gresham.




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