Cities weigh Measure 30’s local impact

Cities in Marion and Polk county don’t expect to see budget cuts if Measure 30’s $1.2 billion state tax increase fails to get voter approval next Tuesday — at least not in the short term.

But a number of city leaders say they expect to see immediate, indirect consequences if the state slashes its budget, much of it affecting public safety and quality of life.

The state of Oregon pays for jail beds, medication for mental patients and forensic experts to review crime scene evidence. All of these programs factor into controlling crime in the cities, and all will face possible cuts if Measure 30 is voted down.

It seems as though lawmakers are threatening to cut the programs that people care about most, said Keizer resident Tammy Wild, who plans to vote against Measure 30.

“I don’t want to see cuts made to education or police, but I don’t think we need more taxes either. It seems like they can find other departments that could probably be looked at and ways could be found to cut in other areas,” Wild said.

Northeast Salem resident Nancy Ingham said she is voting for Measure 30 because voters need to take responsibility for the services they receive.

“We have a society that has problems, and we must take care of them,” she said. “That’s the bottom line for me.”

Salem already is suffering from a booming property crime and auto theft rate, partly due to a lack of space at Marion County jail.

Further losses could drive the crime rate higher and crowd jails, said Bob Wells, Salem’s interim city manager.

As Oregon’s capital city, Wells said, Salem’s economic health could take a hit because of its large number of state employees. He also said he is concerned that cuts to the Oregon Health Plan could mean more public disturbances as people are denied access to medications that help moderate their mental illness.

“The last time they went through big cutbacks we noticed a decided difference in people’s behavior,” he said.

Officials from cities throughout Marion and Polk counties contend that cuts in state programs will eat away at the quality of life in cities. But Russ Walker, Northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy and a leader in the fight to defeat Measure 30, said he thinks that lawmakers are using threats to make cuts to important programs as a way to scare the public into allowing state government to continue to live beyond its means.

“We have a spending problem in Oregon. And until we learn how to restrain spending and prioritize the things that we spend money in order to maintain critical services of education and public safety, we will have problems,” Walker said.

On the other side, Joanne Sandhu, a Keizer resident and a retired teacher, said she thinks that it’s her obligation to vote in favor of Measure 30 because she benefits by the services her tax money provides.

Sandhu, 59, a retired English teacher who worked at McNary High School, said she thinks too many people shirk responsibility for services they receive and try to avoid taxes that provide important public services like education.

“It seems they’ve already cut a bunch from schools. Really I don’t see where there’s anything left to cut,” Sandhu said.

While some city leaders don’t foresee an immediate impact on budgets, they are worried that lawmakers may decide later to end revenue sharing, which contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars in cigarette and gas taxes to local budgets.

“They’re going to be under huge pressure to divert that money,” Braun said.

Salem receives about $2.4 million from alcohol and cigarette taxes, the same source that provides about $500,000 to Keizer.

“It makes us a little nervous. If the state is not feeling good financially, there is a possibility we could see cuts. And that’s a significant amount of money for our budget,” said Keizer City Manager Chris Eppley.

If shared revenue such as the cigarette tax were taken away, Dallas officials said that public safety would suffer.

Greg Ellis, city manager for Independence, said shared revenue funds are used to keep the city’s library and the Heritage Museum running, and money also goes to the city’s police department and administration.

In Monmouth, City Manager Jeff Hecksel pointed to police, library, parks and community services departments as areas financed in part through shared revenues.

“Those departments are already strained because those departments suffered budget reductions last year,” Hecksel said, adding that more budget cuts would mean a reduction in city jobs. “If you lose a chunk of change … it would affect personnel and it’s going to mean a loss of service in some way, shape or form.”

Dennis Thompson Jr. can be reached at (503) 399-6719. Crystal Bolner can be reached at (503) 589-6967. Shawn Day can be reached at (503) 589-6941.