By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Whatchamacolumn: County carpetbags into Mac tax politics

Yamhill County commissioners have formally accused McMinnville of “bait-and-switch” taxation tactics related to formation of the new McMinnville First District. Individually, commission Chair Lindsay Berschauer called the city’s taxation plan “BS” and “unconscionable.”

The extremely high outrage level caused some to wonder if McMinnville City Council is the next local government body targeted for takeover. At a minimum, it was delayed political carpetbagging.

Commissioners claimed that when they gave required approval for balloting the creation of a new fire district, they “expressed significant concern over the potential for the city to bring back the portion of its permanent tax rate ($1.50/1000) that was previously funding fire service, should voters approve a new fire district.”

Commissioners said voters were not told that approval of the district would raise their taxes by $2 per $1,000 valuation, and that “to state otherwise is disingenuous and does not represent the understanding of or actions taken by this Board when we encouraged participation in the fire district election.”

I have no doubt that many McMinnville voters did not fully understand the likely tax outcomes when they voted in May to create the fire district. However, those ramifications were clear to anyone paying attention to the election campaign literature and reading the many reports in this newspaper.

Unlike the commissioners.

In reviewing meeting minutes and newspaper reports, and watching an incomplete video of the key county commission meeting, I found no evidence of that “significant concern” by the commission. What I did find was clear evidence that the city transparently planned to maintain its taxing authority for that additional $1.50 per $1,000, and eventually to spend some or all of it on other city budget needs.

In January – after some officials had said the additional $1.50 per $1,000 levy should be delayed longer — the City Council approved a delay of just one year, while seeking public input on when and how those tax dollars should be spent. One prominent pre-election city statement announced: “If the measure passes and the new district is created, the city would not collect the $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value currently used for fire protection until at least July 2024, and would engage the community to help identify residents’ priorities for the funds.”

It is true that the election campaign discussion on taxation wasn’t quite so clear as was Mayor Remy Drabkin when speaking at this week’s city Budget Committee meeting:

“The many years of work that went into setting up the fire district really had two intended outcomes,” she said. “One was to fix perpetual problems at the then fire department that couldn’t be solved for lack of resources … (the other) was to liberate property tax dollars so that they could be reassigned to other city services.”

It would be fair, even at this stage, for taxpayers to urge a public vote on how much of that $1.50 per $1,000 should be levied. But the letter of outrage from county commissioners was a grandstand play.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.



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