Study looks at Bend's, other Ore. cities' property taxes

Bend's city property tax rate well below other cities

SALEM, Ore. - Timed to coincide with the mailing of property tax statements, a new report from the League of Oregon Cities out Monday tracks how property tax revenues are spent in eight cities throughout the state, including Bend.

"Where the Money Goes" examines the financial challenges facing those cities in case study profiles.

Among the highlights from the Bend profile:

•  The city's permanent property tax rate is far below that of other similarly sized cities. Bend's rate of $2.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value is small compared to Portland's $7.81, Eugene's $7.01, Salem's $5.83 and even Gresham's rate of $3.61.

•  While it's not all that unusual for public safety expenses to exceed property tax collections, Bend's ratio of property tax collections to public safety expenses is high because its permanent property tax rate is so low. Keeping neighborhoods safe and emergency responders at the ready amounts to 129% of property tax revenues.

The league put together a list of how other cities compare on that same ratio, and Bend is fourth on the list –  

•  Bend's per capita property collections amount to $340 annually, about what a monthly gym membership would cost for a year.

Among the other key findings:

  • As public safety needs rise, Gresham's revenues are not keeping pace. In FY2011-12, public safety costs alone amounted to 170 percent of property tax collections. The city manager has warned that "revenues will not continue to support police, fire, parks or other core services at the community's desired level, and Gresham's quality of life will noticeably erode."
  • County financial troubles have increased the burden on Grants Pass' public safety services. Police service calls went up 20 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the reduction of space in the county jail has forced the city to issue citations to appear in court, which many offenders simply ignore.
  • Eugene has cut an average of $6 million from its general fund budget for each of the past four years. The city has eliminated at least 100 positions and now has fewer city staff per capita than at any time in the last 35 years. The city has also reduced library hours and funding to social service organizations.
  • In Albany, statewide tax limits (known as compression) and a decline in the housing market have resulted in eight firefighter positions and nine police positions being reduced--the money lost comes directly from a voter-approved public safety levy. Since 2009, revenue lost to statewide limits has increased from $150,000 to over $900,000. 

"If people are wondering where their property tax dollars are going and how cities are faring, this report will give them an accurate picture of the stark realities," said LOC's Allegra Willhite, lead author of the report.

The full report, which also examines the cities of Pendleton, The Dalles and Coos Bay, can be found here.

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