“I hope we have a meaningful discussion on Thursday. Staff and myself realize this is not easy. There are tough decisions to be made, but they are your decisions to make.”
The decisions that Corvallis City Manager Mark Shepard was referring to are a) how much money to ask the voters for in a renewal of the city’s local option property tax levy; and b) what mix of services will be on that November ballot.
Councilors are scheduled to discuss how to narrow the list of choices at a Thursday work session.
Residents, officials with nonprofit agencies and members of city boards gave councilors plenty to think about Monday night at a two-and-half hour public hearing at the downtown fire station before a standing-room-only crowd.
Thirty individuals spoke about the five options that Shepard and Finance Director Nancy Brewer presented in the staff report (see the full text with this story online). Councilors can mix and match among the options, but the parameters are pretty clear. The city will look to raise somewhere between $4 million and $8 million to pay for city services, with most of the options favoring public safety services such as fire and police.
The current levy, which expires June 30, 2019, charges property owners 82 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $246 per year for property assessed at $300,000. An $8 million levy would require a rate of $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $510 annually for that $300,000 home.
A total of 13 residents and agency officials chimed in because four of the five options in the report would reduce the $360,000 that currently goes to social service agencies ($240,000 from the general fund and $120,000 from the levy) to $100,000.
“I feel like a broken record,” said Kari Whitacre, executive director of Community Outreach Inc., which offers housing, food, mental health and other case management services. “There is a great need out there to feed, shelter and clothe people. And these are vulnerable people. The message this sends to nonprofits is that that we are not wanted in the community.”
Also speaking were representatives from United Way, the Jackson Street shelter, the Community Services Consortium, the Daytime Drop-in Center, the Stone Soup food service, the South Corvallis Food Bank, Linn Benton Food Share, the Old Mill Center for Children and Families, Corvallis Housing First and CASA-Voices for Children.
Five individuals spoke in favor of Parks and Recreation programs, mainly city support of the Majestic Theatre, while the library (five individuals), economic development (four) and arts and culture (two) also received support.
Teresa Matiacio, in poignant, personal testimony, mentioned three Parks and Recreation services that helped her through some serious health difficulties. Water fitness classes at Osborn Aquatic Center assisted in her physical recovery, employees of the Chintimini Senior and Community Center worked with her to overcome Medicare challenges and she now volunteers at the Majestic.
Karen Clevering, a member of the Corvallis-Benton County Library Advisory Board, noted in a day-by-day report, what services — reduced hours, fewer materials to check out and fewer programs for kids — that might go away if the library is not funded at its current level.
Andrew Freborg, a candidate to replace the retiring Hal Brauner in Ward 9, while admitting “I’m going to be in the minority here,” expressed concerns about renewing the levy, noting that he is opposed to holding vital services hostage to a levy when there is enough room in the general fund to pay for them.