PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A week from Tuesday, Gresham voters will decide whether to pass a levy that would cost homeowners hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year. City officials say the levy is necessary to help ensure the city’s safety.
If passed, Ballot Measure 26-239 would implement a five-year levy that would charge property owners $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
For a property with an assessed value of $228,000 – which the city says is the assessed value of a typical Gresham home – it would cost the owner $28.50 per month. Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall said it will likely cost the average Gresham family that owns a home or property about $35 per month.
The mayor said the city is “woefully” below the national average when it comes to police officers per capita and the city hopes the funds raised from the levy will help bolster the number of officers in Gresham and provide more fire and EMT resources.
According to the FBI, in 2021, there were an average of 2.4 police officers per 1,000 people in the United States. In Gresham, there was 1 officer per 1,000 people in 2021.
“We’re seeing the negative impacts of not having the right balance of resources and services in our community. And I think sadly enough part of that recognition is because we’ve seen an uptick and things like that retail theft, auto thefts,” Stovall said.
He believes adding police officers will help address this uptick in crime.
According to the city, Measure 26-239 would raise about $69 million in five years and would fund 26 new police positions and would help keep 13 temporary positions.
The city said 62.5% of the funds raised will go to police, 35% will go to fire resources and 2.5% will go to homeless services.
Based on the estimated revenue of $69 million in five years, that breaks down to more than $43 million going to police, more than $24 million going to fire and $1.7 million going to homeless services.
Some Gresham residents said the small investment in homeless services is why they plan to vote no on the measure.
Alexander Schneider, who bought his first home in Gresham in November, said he wouldn’t mind paying an additional $35 per month in a levy, but disagrees with how the city plans to use the revenue.
“One of the loudest complaints I’ve heard from Gresham residents is the rising homeless population. Gresham officials have previously talked about being dedicated to working on this issue, but when this sort of levy is proposed where the police department is receiving a multi-million-dollar budget increase, while homeless services get almost nothing in comparison, it’s hard to believe they’re truly dedicated to finding a solution,” he told KOIN 6 News.
When asked about the lack of funding for homeless services, Stovall said homelessness is being addressed by other means, including the Oregon Metro supportive housing services tax, funds from Multnomah County and other non-profits.
He said the revenue for homeless services that comes from the levy would help employ more people in Gresham’s Homeless Services team. Those employees will help homeless individuals navigate the process of getting off the streets and into a shelter or permanent housing.
KOIN 6 News asked Stovall why he feels giving more money to the city’s police department is the right move after local protesters demanded less funding for police in 2020 and more to other community services.
He said those criticisms might be more appropriately targeted at police departments that are overstaffed, but in Gresham, with how few officers the city currently has, he feels increasing the police department’s funding is the right thing to do.
“We’ve got to make sure we have the proper funding, that we have the proper training and that our police department reflects our community makeup,” Stovall said.
He said diversity within the police department and all city departments is a key initiative and will be an area of focus if the levy passes and new officers are hired. Stovall said the police department will also use the funding to bolster its behavioral health team. The levy, he said, would provide the team with permanent funding. Right now, it operates on grants.
In the Multnomah County Voters’ Pamphlet for the May 16 election, all arguments made are in favor of the bill passing.
Stovall said there’s been no organized efforts toward a “no” vote, but said he’s heard concerns about transparency and how the city plans to spend the money. He said the city will issue an annual report outlining how the money is being spent.
Gresham residents will also be asked to serve on an oversight committee for the levy funds.
For residents like Ronald, who asked that his last name not be used, it’s the overall cost and not the transparency that has him concerned. For property owners who are already struggling to keep up with the cost of living, an additional monthly fee could push their spending past its limit.
“To add an additional $30.00 or more per month to one’s property tax owed is not good. Most are just getting by,” he said.
He supports law enforcement and improving safety in the community, but the financial concern is what’s driving his no vote.
Despite comments like these, Stovall still feels confident the levy could pass. He said polling conducted around residents shows 59% would support passing the measure.
If the levy fails, the city says it faces an $8 million budget shortfall and citywide layoffs. Stovall blames state Measure 5 and Measure 50 for the deficit the city currently faces. These bills, which were implemented in the 1990s, cut tax rates.
According to the Oregon Department of Revenue, Measure 50 limited the annual growth in a property’s assessed value to 3%. Stovall said this limitation has not allowed taxes collected by the city to keep up with inflation, therefore causing the city to face a deficit.