NORTH BEND — In a push to pass two related measures on this month’s ballot, North Bend Citizens for Good Faith Government recently held a virtual town hall to answer questions.
“It was originally intended to be a town hall in every sense of the word, possibly at the North Bend Community Center with a circular stage and people seated around the outside of it,” said Jim Rose, secretary treasurer of the organization.
“(T)hat was tossed a month and a half ago when it was realized there was no way we could accommodate that during COVID-19. … We needed a new format.”
The virtual town hall, held Thursday evening in a Facebook live session, wasn’t able to stream as Rose and the group had hoped. “Our provider had technical issues,” he said, “but it was recorded.”
The full video can be viewed on North Bend Citizens for Good Faith Government’s Facebook page.
“Did we get our points across? I think so,” Rose said. “Overall, the government you need, or want, isn’t the government you can afford.”
The two measures discussed during the town hall included Measure 6-176, which asks voters, “Shall the power to add or increase fees be removed from the city council to the citizens by popular vote?”
And Measure 6-177, which asks, “Shall the Public Safety fee be reduced from $30 to no more than $15, with voter approval for future increases?”
Rose described these issues as “sister measures,” because “Oregon has the single-subject law on ballots, where even though both (measures) regard public safety, you couldn’t have one that limits the city council as well as lower the safety fee, because they are two separate subjects.”
Both measures were put on the ballot by the North Bend Citizens of Good Faith Government. The group said that was done after the public voted down an increase to the public safety fee in 2018, but then the city council increased the fee anyway the following year.
“It started out as a $5 per month assessment on our water bills with its initial imposition back in April of 2017,” Rose said during the town hall. “The fee was quickly raised by 200 percent, to $15 a month, in June of 2018 and citizens were told the monthly fee, combined with existing property tax revenues, would fully fund the city’s police and fire services.
“Then, in the late summer of 2018, the city told citizens that $15 was not enough and … the public safety fee needed to be raised to $25 a month in order to provide public safety services without any cuts.”
That was when the public voted on a $15 public safety fee, in what Rose said showed “no doubt … on how voters felt about the increase in the public safety fee.”
Early on in the digital town hall, the organization’s chairman, John Briggs, said, “(O)ur group is not anti-public safety. If we were, we would have suggested elimination of the fee in its entirety.”
He challenged North Bend City Manager Terence O’Connor’s position that cuts would have to be made to police and fire if the public safety fee is decreased. In a previous interview with The World, O’Connor cited the increased public safety fee as a way to keep up with inflation and the city’s growing needs.
“The (city) council has to make hard choices and this is a situation where they have to make hard choices,” Briggs said, suggesting that public safety departments be funded before other city operations. “We support public safety. (The city council) supports public safety. So the first thing they should do is to provide for public safety at appropriate levels.”
During the town hall, Rose and Briggs also talked about difficulties North Bend residents face in paying all of their bills on top of the increased public safety fee. “How many people are truly affected in how they eat and (the prescription) drugs they need…?” Briggs asked.
Rose answered: “Over one-third is on a fixed income, and another third is working part time at Oregon minimum wage, and the other population is working full time
“The situation was bad four months ago and it is worse today. (The public safety fee) is unaffordable at $30.
“It was possibly affordable at $15, which is why (Measure 6-177) rolls back the fee to where the city said public safety was fully funded.”
Rose added that Measure 6-176 “puts power into the hands of the people to decide if they want revenue raised.”
“Fees in lieu of taxes are a problem because people can’t vote on those,” he said. “By constitutional law in Oregon, if you want to raise a tax it has to go to the vote of the people, but a fee is a way around the actual laws regarding taxes and that's what Measure 176 prevents.”
Rose told The World following the town hall that if Measure 6-176 doesn’t pass, “There is nothing stopping (the city council) from making (the fee) $60.
“People will get priced out of their houses. For a lot of these retirees, it will make it a lot more unaffordable. You could essentially have people not want to come here.”
Should both ballot measures fail, Rose said, the next step would be to recruit and promote candidates to run for city council in November to “change the dynamic.”