REEDSPORT — Ballots were mailed Oct. 14 for the Nov. 3 special election in which Reedsport voters will get to decide if they still want to require a double majority to raise taxes in their city.
A double majority means that for a measure to pass, at least 50 percent of the registered voters must turn out, and at least 50 percent of those voters must vote "yes."
Measure 10-138 is the Reedsport City Council's second attempt to roll back the double-majority requirement, approved by voters as an amendment to the city charter (Measure 10-119) in May 2012.
In November 2014, voters defeated a similar rollback measure placed on the ballot by the council, 781 to 623.
This time the measure bears the outspoken title, "Double Majority Allows Non-Voters to Determine Elections," and the plaintive ballot question, "Shall non-voters continue to be a determining factor in City elections?"
The double majority was brought before voters in 2012 by the Committee for Fiscal Responsibility. It passed 686 to 467.
So far, the double majority requirement has nixed two attempts by the city council to raise taxes.
One was the city's May 2014 request to apply savings from refinancing a loan to paying for engineering for a certification of the city’s levee.
Another was a May 2015 effort to tax medical and recreational marijuana in the city. Only 20 percent of voters turned out for that election, although 76 percent of them voted in favor of the tax. The window of opportunity for cities to enact marijuana taxes has since closed.
This time, the City Council voted unanimously in August to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot — including Councilor Frank Barth, Jr., who was a chief petitioner for the Committee for Fiscal Responsibility.
Barth referred an inquiry about his vote to Reedsport City Manager Jonathan Wright. "It's not about what happened then (with Measure 10-119), it's about what we're trying to do now," Barth said.
Wright said he thought some 10-119 proponents had realized the double-majority requirement would require some "tweaking" to ensure that the intent was carried out.
But Wright said the double-majority requirement "needs to be lifted so that we can do regular business."
"We are trying, as a governmental entity, to honor what the people have said," he said. Instead of seeking tax or fee increases, he said, the city has focused on leveraging its existing savings as matching funds for grants — for example, in funding engineering studies on the city's deteriorating levee, which protects the downtown area from flooding.
But the city needs room to act without depending on a big voter turnout — which will only get harder to attain, Wright said, now that drivers' license applicants are automatically registered to vote in Oregon.
"Now that we have automatic voter registration, we'll have even more people registered who don't want to have anything to do with the process" of voting, Wright said.
That will make it harder to get 50 percent of registered voters to turn out.
Wright said the City Council doesn't have a particular tax in mind to place before the voters if Measure 10-138 passes.
City staff are putting the finishing touches on an application for a $52 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that would fund improvements to Reedsport's levee.
"Should we be successful at the HUD grant, I don't anticipate having to go out for a tax levy for the levee," Wright said.
"If we're unsuccessful, we'll have to figure out something."