By editorial board • 

City spending referendum doesn't require a petition

What do you do if you’re outvoted 13-1 and you still want your way? If you’re McMinnville City Councilor Chris Chenoweth, it would seem, you launch a petition drive aimed at overturning the decision at the polls in November.

Chenoweth is being joined in the effort by George Humlie, who ran a losing campaign against City Councilor Zack Geary two years ago. Humlie’s wife, Anita, was unsuccessful last year in seeking an appointive county parks board seat and elective school board seat.

Urban and rural firefighting operations have been merged under auspices of a new special district with its own funding. Chenoweth’s tax position was rebuffed in a Dec.1 budget committee meeting when, over his lone objection, the committee decided to revive 50 cents of the city’s former $1.50 fire levy and use it to shore up the general fund.

At that meeting he said, “I have been on record repeatedly saying that I believe taking money and spending it without permission is theft. I think the way you do this right is you take the argument of what to spend it on, then have voters decide to spend it.”

Chenoweth’s confirmation of that position is a petition to limit the city’s property tax rate, which requires collection of 3,540 valid voter signatures over the course of the next few months.

The city’s operating tax authority currently stands at $5.02, which includes the $1.50 per $1,000 levy no longer needed to support a city fire and ambulance service. The initiative would limit the tax rate to $3.52 unless increased — up to $5.02 — by voters.

The city plans to add 50 cents of that $1.50 levy into its 2024-25 budget. Officials have not finalized plans to levy the rest of the money, or any part of it, on down the line, but in discussions about reserving that option some councilors suggested that it be added back in phases over three years.

Is city spending a fair issue in local election campaigns? There can be no question about that. It most certainly is.

The mayor/manager duo of Norm Scott and Joe Dancer, followed by the mayor/manager duo of Ed Gormley and Kent Taylor, gave McMinnville about half a century of cautious and deliberate leadership. In recent years, a pandemic, inflation and other challenges have left the community with a growing array of unmet needs.

The current duo of Remy Drabkin and Jeff Towery has proven more ambitious and pro-active. They have set about not just to maintain the status quo, but to embrace upgrades, expansions and improvements to the extent means allowed, and to stretch those means as the occasion arose.

Is the city moving too far too fast? Is it bringing in too many consultants for too many projects, consuming too much revenue in the process? If so, voters can decide on their own — without resorting to the artificial restraints of a mandated property tax limit — who should be making those decisions on their city council.

However, the initiative petition remedy was pioneered in Oregon, and anyone wishing to take that route has every right to do so. Even when such drives fail to reach the ballot or find favor at the ballot box, they can serve to foster useful reflection among those running the show for us.

We also recognize that forces from the right end of the political and social spectrum have been mounting efforts to take over county commissions, city councils and school boards across the state — and indeed, the nation — in recent years. Locally, they have succeeded with our county commission, failed with our city council and school board, and experienced initial successes following by subsequent reverses in neighboring Newberg. Perhaps a McMinnville tax-limit ballot measure campaign will produce another coordinated slate of city candidates claiming the incumbents are taxing us out of our very homes.

So let it play out as it will. Just don’t be misled by the inevitable overstatement, distortion and even fabrication that can come along for the ride.


Bill B

I see. So, Ed Gormley (and managers) didn't do a very good job of leading our city and the current mayor (and manager) is doing a great job because they have adopted a model of tax and spend. The News Register (Bagwell) seems to think everyone should fall in lock step with the mayor and her peeps. Good for Mr. Chenoweth. We need to challenge the current model of deciding what would be nice to have and then budgeting to those numbers. Then of course asking for more money.

What we really need is an overall assessment of the city and its operations; A McKinsey type of analysis. That would be money well spent IMHO.

Bill B

It would be nice if the News Register would take an objective look at how our tax dollars are being spent.

Don Dix

From the article -- 'The city’s operating tax authority currently stands at $5.02, which includes the $1.50 per $1,000 levy no longer needed to support a city fire and ambulance service. The initiative would limit the tax rate to $3.52 unless increased — up to $5.02 — by voters"

So the city doesn't 'need' the buck fifty, but they sure do 'want' it. Added to the $13 'monthly handling fee', a sewer rate increase, and a future stormwater charge - well, you get it.

And let's give a little credit to (not criticize) those past mayor/manager teams - the results of their leadership can be found everywhere - accomplished within means and without deceiving the public.

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