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Tuesday, February 1, 2005

One out of every five property tax dollars

In response to b!X's good work on the urban renewal tax rules, I've stared some more at my property tax bill, where that suspicious line item "Urban Renewal - Portland" appears. I've been moaning that 7.89% of the bill goes down that particular chute. Which seemed like an awful lot.

But on closer inspection, the story gets even more troubling.

Property taxes go to all sorts of government spenders: the school district, Metro, the Port, Multnomah County, the Library, etc. Isolating the amounts clearly earmarked for the City of Portland, we see that of the total property taxes I pay, only around 41.55% goes to the city. The rest goes to the other local government players.

Now let's take a look at the dollars that actually go to the city. By my amateur calculations, based on the breakout on the tax bill, of every $100 in property tax that the City of Portland collects, roughly $19 goes to "urban renewal"! In other words, nearly one out of every five property tax dollars the city collects goes to that purpose. It's hard to see how subsidizing real estate development, particularly condo towers, should be that big a priority in these tight economic times. (Another $24.30 goes to "fire/police pension," but that's another subject entirely.)

Here's the number crunch -- the percentages that show how the city's property tax revenue (collected from me, at least) is earmarked to be spent, using as best I can the headings on the tax bill:

"City of Portland" 46.43%
"City of Portland Child Loc Op" 4.11%
"City of Portland Parks Loc Op" 3.99%
"Portland Police/Fire Pension" 24.30%
"Urban Renewal - Portland" 18.99%
"City of Portland Bonds" 2.18%
Total 100.00%

Urban renewal may be a good concept. But the way it's practiced in Portland may not be. And however it's done, we're doing too much of it.

Comments (6)

There's another interesting fact about property taxes that isn't widely known but is getting more exposure. The police and fire pension and disability is a contractual obligation but the maximum amount that can be levied is, if I recall, $2.80 per thousand. If the needs of the fund require more than the $2.80, it gets first dibs on local option levy money, (childrens, parks, etc.) and, if that becomes exhausted, general fund money. If you examine your bill and find that the extended amount for, say, the parks levy does not work out to the millage rate we voted for it is because your property has become "compressed" and the FPD&R is cutting into it. I don't recall any disclaimers to the taxpayers when we voted for parks that the money would go to parks UNLESS the needs of the Police and Fire pension fund required some of it. Maybe rather than cutting into parks and childrens levies they ought to raid the urban renewal chunk first.

I agree with Mr Lister a lot of these things are either bonds (which must be paid or there goes the credit rating) or Pension (will be paid as long as there is one cent available.) This means that by default, the schools go to the bottom of the list.

Funny how CoP (Randy's statement that there is no problem at all with Police/Fire Disability especially) thinks they can keeep shoving this past us. Oops, sorry, I cribbed those lines from Lars!!!

Anymore, the only solution seems to give these people less taxes to spend since we can't trust them to manage money. I mean, the latest thing is these poor people have to cut 3M out of a $1.7billon budget and this is painful? What a bunch of clowns.

The FPD&R which clearly is a far bigger pork barrel than URAs is likely beyond any repair, long time ago they made it apparently untouchable as pointed out above. Be honest, Comm. Leonard is in no position to do anything about it.

URAs are big as indicated on your tax bill, but they simply cover old debts, there is nothing you can do about them now short of moving out.

URAs are needed, South Waterfront needs some public investment. So there will be another URA and another bond issued to be paid back in your future taxes. The questions is how big and what it will be used for. Randy and the company decide that. I guess some think a) the city was too generous to developers before and b) we are already overextended and should show some restrain. Any chance here, Randy?

Try this one on for size.

There are over 3000 properties with tax abatements in the city of Portland. The abatements involve a frozen assessed value at either raw land or other pre-developed levels.
This is how you get a luxury $800,000 condo paying $300 in property taxes.
What happens when a local option levy passes?
Is the new tax levied on the frozen assessed value for these property owners?
Meaning the levy is being voted on by folks who will not be paying their fair share because of their tax abatement?

wg - I disagree about Mr Leonard's ability to impact the Police/Fire Disability fund based on:
1) He helped set it up
2) He was on the board of directors and may still be (another issue about beneficiaries being allowed to make the rules and oversee the fund)
3) He receives pension checks after making a min personal contribution and the rest is made up thru our taxes
4) He has taken every chance he gets to tell everyone to leave the fund alone because there are no problems with it even though it eats up 10% of my prop tax bill
5) He is on the City Council which just voted to "look" at the fund (I hope more effectively than the State did with PERS.)

I have nothing against these funds, but when they are set up they do the benefits and have no clue on how to pay for them. Now we have a situation where they become top dollar obligations and the schools end up paying for it.

Precisely. Let's be realistic. The best taxpayers can hope for is him disqualifying himself because of obvious conflict of interest issues. Same with Potter. I think highly of both of them, but not THAT highly.

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