NORTH BEND — As ballots go out to voters this week, North Bend residents are being asked if they want to take some power back from their city council.
Measure 6-176 asks voters, “Shall the power to add or increase fees be removed from the city council to the citizens by popular vote?”
According to a summary of the ballot measure, a “yes” vote will amend the city charter to require that any decision to raise or add North Bend taxes, fees or other revenue-generating mechanisms be decided by popular vote during either a May or November election.
It would allow for exceptions in “charges otherwise subject to voter approval or subject to standards provided by state law.”
The measure also would dictate that increases or additions not exceed recent Social Security cost-of-living increases.
Measure 6-176 — as well as Measure 6-177, regarding the public safety fee — was brought to the ballot by North Bend Citizens for Good Faith Government. The chairman for the local grassroots group, John Briggs, said he had grown concerned over how the city council was operating.
Briggs said that in November 2018, the city voted against an increase in a municipal public safety fee. But last May, his wife showed him their water bill and “the (public safety fee) was almost half of the total bill.”
That sent him marching to North Bend City Hall to ask where the council got its legal authority to make this decision regardless of a popular vote against it.
He learned that the action wasn’t “prohibited in the state constitution or the city charter,” said Briggs. “Therefore, it is permitted.
“I turned around and didn’t get more than three steps before I thought to myself, ‘This is an open checkbook from my pocket and everyone else in the city. They don’t even have to ask me, because it’s not prohibited for them to set up a fee any time they want.’
“That was the beginning, and true principal, of the whole thing.”
As North Bend’s former mayor in 2001 and 2002, Briggs said, he never remembered the council bringing up this “loophole” before.
He said he understands the need to maintain essential city services such as police and fire protection, but that North Bend’s voters had voted “no” on the fee increase.
“The whole point is, I don’t mind if you ask me and if I say yes, then go right ahead and do it, but at least ask me,” Briggs said. “Just because you have a loophole out there doesn’t give you the right to do that.”
According to North Bend City Manager Terence O’Connor, such a shift in authority from city government has happened in both Bandon and Reedsport.
North Bend City Councilman Timm Slater said that if the measure passes, the North Bend City Council will adjust.
“Obviously, it would be cumbersome,” Slater said, pointing to gaining voter approval for fees as small as copying papers at the library or for swimming rates.
“The council would still be able to raise rates by the amount of Social Security raised each year,” said Slater, “which is 1.6% this year.
“If the public wants to approve this measure, you learn how to work with it.”
He said he doesn’t think the measure is necessary, but conceded the city could be doing a better job of informing the public about its activities and decisions by using, among other things, newsletters and social media.
That said, “Whatever the majority of the public decides, those are your marching orders.”