Bend man sparks move to trim Deschutes 911 levy

Questions about set-aside reserves prompt discussion

Will Deschutes lower 911 levy tax rate?

BEND, Ore. - Larry Fulkerson had a question:  Why is Deschutes County asking residents to renew a 911 levy at the same tax rate as before, when they have millions of dollars in reserve?

The referred-to funds include $2 million in undirected reserves, and more than $7 million earmarked for future capital projects.

"We need to trust government," Fulkerson said Thursday. "I was in a position to spend $400 to put an argument in opposition in the Voters Pamphlet against this levy, I'm now prepared to change that into a letter of support, which will still cost me $400."

After he met with county commissioners, they are looking at reducing the levy's tax rate -- from 23 cents to 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. On a home valued at $200,000, that would cut the bill by about $6 a year.

Commissioners will discuss lowering the tax rate at a meeting on Monday.

"I think they're going to lower it three cents," Fulkerson said.  "It's going to give something back to the voters. It's going to give voters a reason to trust government."

 Deschutes 911 Director Rob Poirier said he believes lowering the tax is the right thing to do, but added that there's also a good reason for keeping a large reserve.

"We've been saving our resources in the event where the day came where our levy was going to run out," Poirier said.

Poirier said it's crucial that 911 keep money aside for new technology, growth in the county, and to make sure the center doesn't have an emergency that could keep them from aiding in your emergency situation.

"We're willing to take only what we need," he said.  So that when we do go ask for a higher rate that we think is going to sustain us in the future, so that we've established that trust with those voters."

Poirier said lowering the tax by three cents could mean the center could come up short in revenue for its operating budget.

However, he added, 911 rarely uses all of that budget each year -- they plan for the worst, and the biggest costs, to make sure they don't ever come up short.

He hopes in the future, the county can secure higher, permanent funding.

Now, taxpayers pay 16 cents per $1,000 in a permanent fund to 911.

Last year, voters denied a measure to bring the permanent funding up to 39 cents  per $1,000 of assessed value.

Fulkerson said he didn't support the measure last year,  but he now understands why 911 needs the funding. And he says when it comes to securing votes, communication is key.

"When important issues come up, like the 911 levy, I think they need to be up front and tell us exactly why they need the money, why they have the reserves, why they need that surplus," Fulkerson said.

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