By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Bill for party of one

Marcus Larson / News-Register
Mary Meyers stands on her Newberg land after winning a six-year battle for a $20,000 property tax refund.
Marcus Larson / News-Register
Mary Meyers stands on her Newberg land after winning a six-year battle for a $20,000 property tax refund.

There was just one problem. The way state law read, there was no legal way Assessor Scott Maytubby could cut her a check.

That’s because the county incurred the debt as a result of an error on the part of the planning department rather than the assessor’s office. And under the law, Maytubby is only allowed to issue reimbursements to correct his own errors.

Last week, Meyers got something very few people ever get — unanimous legislative approval of a bill written just for her. That bill, SB 505, will allow Maytubby to reimburse her 90 days after the end of the current legislative session.

While some people might balk at yet more governmental delay, Meyers is philosophical. She’s already waited six years, so three months doesn’t sound bad to her.

Meyers said she’d love to buy a little sports car, but plans to allocate the money to something a lot less exciting — paying down the mortgage.

Now that the bill has been passed and signed, she said, “I want to pinch myself. Everyone agreed to do the right thing. They agreed in their hearts to do the right thing and they worked to make it happen.”

Meyers said Leslie Lewis, who capped a legislative career by serving three four-year terms as a Yamhill County commissioner, deserves the lion’s share of the credit. She said Lewis knew what needed to be done, knew how to get it done and stuck with it even after leaving office.

“I was told on many occasions that it was the right thing to do, but might not ever happen,” Meyers said. “My heart just hurt for all the people who need help with something but are helpless to do something about it without interception. I was fortunate to have a number of people who went above and beyond for me.”

She said Lewis enlisted the help of Kim Thatcher in the House and Larry George in the Senate, and that turned the trick.

Thatcher, a Keizer Republican whose District 25 slops over to take in the Newberg-Dundee areas, said it was simply “about doing the right thing for taxpayers when a government agency makes a mistake.” George, a Sherwood Republican whose Senate district includes Thatcher’s House district, called it “a common sense fix to allow the county to return the funds, just like they do when other types of mistakes are made in taxation decisions.”

Meyers lived on the timbered, 18-acre property with her first husband, Calvin, until 2004. He died the same week voters passed Measure 37, which rolled back land-use regulations for long-time rural property owners like them.

It was partially repealed by Measure 45 three years later, but only partly. Sorting out the impacts a zig one direction followed by a zag the other proved both uncertain and contentious.

Measure 37 allowed rural landowners to have land use applications processed on the basis of the rules in effect at the time of purchase, waiving restrictions imposed since. Meyers decided to take advantage of the rollback to have her property divided into six parcels for distribution among her children.

Her application was approved in 2007, on condition she forfeit her farming and forestry tax deferral retroactive to 2004.

Two years later, County Planning Director Mike Brandt determined that condition was justified in most Measure 37 cases, but not hers. So the county processed a new application for her, removing the condition.

That rectified the problem going forward, but by then, Meyers had paid five years of property taxes that should have been deferred — the three back years and two new ones. That left her out $20,000, and Maytubby could come up with no legal way to provide her with a reimbursement.

That’s when Lewis stepped in, employing her legislative savvy and contacts to lay the groundworkk for a legislative fix.

Maytubby said he can’t wait to write the check and finally make things right by Meyers, now that the Legislature has acted.

“Right from the beginning, I agreed with the premise that we should be able to do it,” he said. “But I researched the statutes, and as a steward of the taxes, I just didn’t have the authority to do it.

“I’m pleased there was a resolution to give the taxpayer what she deserves. That’s why we have this democracy. We have legislators who take up issues for constituents, trying to do what’s right, and I feel like our representatives did that.”

Lewis said she continued to help Meyers through the process after she left office because “it was wrong and needed to be corrected.”

She said, “I’m so pleased to know we got this through. It’s been a nail-biter.”

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