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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 19, 2007 5:52 AM. The previous post in this blog was How far we've come. The next post in this blog is Congressional throwdown over wiretapping. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Portland urban renewal property tax jumps 14.7%

We got our property tax bill yesterday, and we were not surprised to see that it had risen substantially over last year's. We remembered that an expired school district levy had been voted back in, and that we had also voted to place a small band-aid on the severed carotid artery of money called the Portland police and fire pension fund. We figured an 8 to 10 percent overall increase was in the offing.

We were close, but we undershot it. The overall bill is up 11.36 percent.

The big surprise, however, comes elsewhere in the City of Portland category, where the wonderful line "Urban Renewal - Portland" shot up 14.72 percent above where it stood last year. You can be darn sure we didn't vote on that. It's particularly startling when held up next to the police and fire pension tax, which increased at exactly half that rate -- 7.36 percent. You wonder where your tax dollars are going? Read it and weep.

In the past, we've focused on what percentage of City of Portland property taxes goes toward "urban renewal." "Urban renewal's" share of the city's property tax pie has been creeping up steadily -- three years ago it was 18.9 percent, two years ago 19.17 percent, last year 20.53 percent. Well, now it's 22.24 percent of the city property tax levy, close behind the cop and fire pension tapper at 23.06 percent.

We're now to the point where 45.3 percent of the property taxes that the city collects -- at least from guys like us -- goes to "urban renewal" and police and fire pensions. Less than 55 percent of what the city gets from us in property taxes goes for anything else.

That is profoundly sad and scary at the same time.

A few other oddities: Tri-Met and Multnomah County bond levies are actually down from last year (did I hear somebody say "Sellwood Bridge"?); the Metro bond levy nearly doubled; the library tax jumped sharply, as did the PCC bond levy; and the tiny east county soil conservation levy more than doubled.

Well, enough of the dry facts and figures for now. We did a little spreadsheet for the wonkier among us, and here's a big piece of it:

"Urban renewal." Cop and fire pensions. Nearly half of all the city property taxes. Sheesh. But is it any wonder, really, when you look at our City Council? Two police and fire pensioners, a lapdog of the developers, and two other guys who never had real jobs. Pay up, people.

Comments (29)

And we're about to switch out one of the pensioners for another lapdog...

The lion's share of the 22% was stolen from the schools, county, & other tax districts - making the case even more alarming, IMHO.

Write in Dave Lister for Mayor, and Jack Bogdanski for the council seat being vacated by Sam the Scam.

Truly alarming. Thanks for the great work. It should also be noted there can also be significant intra-neighborhood property tax disparities. The house 2 doors down from me pays about 60% more than its next-door neighbor for a lesser house. Thank you Bill Sizemore. Also, people who live in historic houses get an undeserved windfall, and don't even get me started on condo owners in the Pearl who only pay $500 a year.

I saw the WW piece on Measure 5. It was interesting, to say the least. Of course, when the West Hills people whine about how unfairly they're being treated compared to folks in North Portland, I get a good belly laugh, which helps my blood pressure.

Ours went up over 10% as well, so much for the 3% limit and over the $20/$1000 supposed limit.

I think the 3% limit assumes that no bond measures were passed.

I don't mind paying taxes for schools, for urban renewal (so long as it is genuine urban renewal and not $$$ to pay for a fancy parking structure for a fancy french restaurant), and even for police/fire pensions, so long as those pensions are reasonable (i.e., you can't draw from your pension if you are a FTE somewhere else). But the more you look into it, the less reasonable things become.

Let all the suckers root for urban renewable abuse. Police and firemen retirement should be in PERS.
On behalf of all crooks and thieves I thank you, suckers, for voting in bonds.
Now all you fine smart Portlanders need is toll roads and bridges.
Sure glad we moved.

That $6.5 million for parking spaces under the French restaurant was a back door payment to Homer for his rising share of the Tram. OHSU got similar payments during and following the "negotiations" over the soaring Tram costs. All to keep the apprearance of the City's share of the Tram remaining small, while many millions in borrowed Urban Renewal monies found their way to the city's "partners".
So while you pay your property taxes know for sure that a big chunk is going towards the Tram. Despite the lying, corrupted officials.

Just where is this Urban Renewal going on?And just where does the Urban Renewal money go to? Destruction of downtown?

I don't bother to shop in SW downtown anymore due to the mess. Streets are constantly torn up, lanes are blocked, and stores are closing up.

Thankfully, West Burnside, west of NW 24th, has finally been repaved to the tunnel. But was this done with Urban Renewal money? Meanwhile, the condition of the streets all over Portland are getting worse daily. I'm amazed that Portland doesn't get sued for flat tires and killed transmission just from the potholes.

I also wonder just how many times that "sewer pipes" need to be repaired. SW Main was torn up last year for a project, and suddenly is again this year for the same reasons. The Pearl is now full of new uncompleted commercial projects that, with a crashing economy, will soon stick out like eyesores.

It's time to get tough with the Mayor AND Commissioners.

Heck, for the miz and me, property taxes come to a trifling $10 a day. Each.

So while you pay your property taxes know for sure that a big chunk is going towards the Tram.

Not to worry. If BM50 passes, taxed smokers can help pay down the Tram. Plus...other hospitals and health care providers can obviate their obligations to indigent care by having the taxpayers pick up the tab. Smoking taxpayers, that is.

Let's all help out the elite in reducing their tax burdens. "Rich citizens are the good of a city," after all. If they get ticked off, they might take their property and go somewhere else. Soon, though, they'll be able to pay less in taxes than the homeless living on the street. Which will, of course, stimulate the economy.

Yeah...right.

Excuse me, but I thought there was a provision in the Oregon constitution that the state was prevented in engaging in deficit spending. Is that gone now?

Is not floating bonds in the fashion done with Portland's Urban Renewal program basically using bonding as a form of deficit spending?

Did we vote on this bonding? Did we ever vote on extending bonding authority?

I can't claim to be any kind of an expert since all I've done is read thru the Portland 2007-08 budget a few times, but it does look like Portland is cooking the books a bit. They spend more than they take in thru the magic of debt. If you look at the chart on pg 13 of the budget you'll see that the city takes in about $1.2B in taxes and fees but they plan to spend about $1.6B for expenses. The difference comes from bond proceeds.

KISS comments above: "Police and firemen retirement should be in PERS."

Sorry, but Portland has its own relatively unfunded police and fire pension plan which is richer than PERS.

Based on the chart Jack produced above, Portlanders are paying roughly a quarter of our city property tax bills and ten percent of our total property tax bills for police who don't fight crime and firemen who don't fight fires.

Of course these retired officers deserve good benefits, but even at its worst PERS was never as under funded as this city retirement system.

Since I depend on pensions and social security I guess I can't afford to live here in Portland anymore. Anybody know a nice, low tax neighborhood in Clackamas or Washington county? Maybe close to the MAX?

Jack,
Regarding the WW piece, it's interesting that the disparity in taxes exists even here in NE Portland. On my block, 2006 taxes per sq/ft ranged from $1.30-$2.44 even though homes are similar in age & condition. On a broader scale, homes in the immediate 3 block area ranged from $1.25-$2.89 sq/ft. How would you like to be the guy paying $2.89 sq/ft when your neighbor next door is living in a nicer/larger home paying $1.25? What's really disheartening is that our elected officials know system is in inconsistent and unfair but have done nothing to correct it. It would be great if they brought the same energy to fixing this problem as they do to transit malls, streetcars and duct tape.

Jack, honey, some of us in SW PDX get screwed by govt more than people on the other side of the river. We get dick in services (check police and fire response times in 97219 and 97221 zips), pot holes for roads, no reasonable access to public transportation. The city screws over the middle class in the whole city not just on the other side of the river.

I don't believe paying one penny for urban renewal. It's just another welfare subsidy for developers and businesses who already pay a lesser percentage of their income in taxes than Joe Q. Public. What ever happened to good old fashioned capitalism?

WestPDXer has it sooo right. Theres a reason why West Portland Park calls itself "...the Cully of the West Side..." .

In my more pollyanna-ish moments, I hope someone at the city and at the county government might read this stuff, and actually have the intestinal fortitude to do somethign about it.

But they're probably too busy making sure their hair is styled just right and that the glasses they picked out at the opticians bring out their cheekbones. If they haven't already left for the weekend. It is, after all, 12:51!

Simon

"but it does look like Portland is cooking the books a bit"

Of course they are. This city is corrupt.
Not by gangsters but by a complete lack of oversight and accountability.
The examples are many but for another on on their methods, the PDC was found to be using preliminary estimates in reporting expenses. Imagine how bad that little stunt can get.
This isn't a matter of a fox watching the hen house but rather half the hens are foxes.
Millions of dollars are being diverted, spent, directed, and misused without so much as any governing body or person genuinely reviewing exactly whaty is going on and where it truly goes.

Mine went up 25+% due to a visit from a nice chap from the assessors office. It seems that the structure of my house is worth $100k more than last year. In the tradition of a conservative being a liberal that just got mugged, I may have just become the newest member of the Portland-is-going-to-hell club that meets here daily.

"I may have just become the newest member of the Portland-is-going-to-hell club that meets here daily."

Oh, no! Say it ain't so, Sherwood. Yours has been about the sanest voice in the comments section of this blog--at least since TKrueg found better things to do with his time. The last thing the comments section needs is a local neo-con, who tend to be the craziest of all the cons.

(But I have to say, 25% is a whopper of an increase. I wonder what the explanation is--there must be more to your tax story than you've told, no?)

Richard,

Thanks for the kind words. Most here would disagree but that’s why I like posting here. I can’t stand spending time with people who agree with me (it's a weird quirk). I agree that converts tend to make the scariest believers (see Horowitz and, tragically, Hitchens) and will attempt to see the big picture beyond the tax form.

We redid the kitchen (when I say “we” I mean a highly-paid contractor and his team). As we already had a kitchen and merely made it work better that hike seems way out of order. It would make sense if we had added a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. To be honest I think it might be personal. The inspector was very slimy. He even tried to enlarge my house by 300sq ft, claiming that it had never been measured properly in 90 years. I was very helpful and supplied him with precise measurement, something he did not appreciate. We compromised on the house magically growing a mere 30sq ft. I’ll send in the check next week and then have a go at the appeal process.

Sherwood, Ben pointed out as an example why there's been a 14.7% Urban Renewal tax increase that affected you so much: the 100 parking spaces costing taxpayers $6.6M under The Strand in RiverPlace, a part of SoWhat URA.

There are 400 spaces under The Strand with 100 spaces for the "public". That's $66T for each space, but the average underground parking space in Portland costs $30T. This means $3.6M was paid to Homer for brownfield cleanup ($6.6M-(100 spaces x $3T).

But Homer already had a discounted purchase price for The Strand site. He paid $3.2M to PDC for the equivalent of two plus city blocks. In the same year Homer sold just ONE block (Block 49) farther to the south in SoWhat (with much less existing amenities and in a major construction zone) to PDC for $7.2 MILLION. One would think The Strand was discounted based on this comparison by at least four times-the price should have been at least over $10M. So Homer got a $10M land discount plus $3.5M in excess inflated price for 100 parking spaces giving a conservative $13.5 MILLION "benefit" to take care of the brownfield site.

But what WW didn't report was that much of the brownfield was removed by PDC (taxpayers) when the old PGE Steam Plant was torn down over ten years ago.

If you prorate the $13.5M for cleanup for 100 spaces, then common sense would suggest that $54 MILLION was paid in cleanup for all 400 spaces ($13.5M x 4). But do you think Homer paid that amount? Ask PDC to give you the audit of the sites brownfield cleaning costs after Homer bought the site, since PDC monitored the cleanup. Right now, when asked, PDC can't seem to come up with the number.

We've been had again. When are the voters going to change regimes? And I still like Portland, and I'm from here.

Are there any examples of Urban Renewal Funds being spent on low income housing in Portland?

In the last few years, it appears that subsidies for wealthy interests (OHSU, PGE Park, Paul Allen, luxury condos) seems to have a lock on public/private partnerships.

Gotta love those progressives, eh?

There sure is enough money to put in those speed bumps all over the city....I bet the asphalt could go to better use..... Such as repairing the pot holes all over this city.

Sherwood:

Best of luck with the property tax appeal. I don't blame you for feeling mugged.

P.S. My take on Hitchens is that he suffers from delusions of grandeur. He imagines himself as George Orwell, and he believes he is fighting for the present-day equivalent of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. May we all be preserved from that sort of big picture thinking.


92 cents a month, every month by every property in Portland seems like a lot to fix a "technical oversight" in the Fire and Police retirement health plan. How much does that add up to?


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