Two taxes: HR County moves on excise tax, discusses NORCOR bond

A sparse turnout met Hood River County Board of Commissioners’ first hearing on a new construction excise tax.

Members of an advisory committee, as well as a few city and county officials, made up the audience Monday night — however, no one signed up for public testimony.

The community will get another chance to voice their take on a proposed 1 percent residential and commercial tax at the county’s follow-up hearing in April.


Jeff Hecksel

The tax program, created by an Oregon Senate bill last year, allows local governments to impose taxes on new development via building permits, with revenue destined to fund affordable housing initiatives. The draft ordinance targets “Hood River County’s long-standing need of additional affordable housing.”

Commissioners expressed surprise at the lack of public response to the tax.

“I can’t believe there’s no one here,” Commissioner Bob Benton said.

County Administrator Jeff Hecksel noted the ordinance lays out a series of exemptions and uses for different types of development.

The matter will come before Hood River City Council soon and Cascade Locks will need to refer the issue to its voters, Hecksel said. The county and cities would partner on the tax program.

Ad-hoc committee members Joel Madsen, Mid-Columbia Housing Authority executive director, and Kate McBride, a Hood River City Council member, on Monday recommended that tax revenue should go toward households earning at or below 80 percent AMI (area median income).

Some commissioners felt that stipulation would hamper the county’s flexibility, and preferred a more case by case strategy.

The draft ordinance states the committee didn’t reach unanimous consent on the AMI rate, and the finer points of prioritizing housing projects based on income levels. However, the team settled on requiring deed restrictions in order to assure that tax revenue is secured for residential housing projects in the long term.

After discussion, the board directed staff to clarify legal details of the ordinance and come back with a finalized version at their next meeting, which the board can vote on adopting.

NORCOR tax measure

The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility board decided last week to put the question of a bond measure on the May 16 special districts election ballot.

The bond ask: establishing a permanent tax rate limit of 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value beginning in 2017-2018. The regional jail in The Dalles serves Hood River, Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties.

Ron Rivers, county chair, is a NORCOR board member who took part in the decision making process.

“The decision was unanimous, not without a lot discussion,” River said. “The bottom line was there’s a lot of need for this.”

The jail’s proposed budget, at $8 million, is similar to budgets over the last few years, he said. A goal of the next year is to better coordinate adult and juvenile inmate divisions so they don’t operate in “silos,” Rivers said.

The NORCOR measure was noticed in the March 18 edition of the Hood River News. According to the notice text, taxes authorized by voters to pay for NORCOR bonds have expired. The levy essentially renews the bonds, with tax revenue used to maintain and operate jail facilities. In the first year of rollout, the proposed rate will raise approximately $1.3 million.

The deadline to petition the ballot title in Wasco County Circuit Court is 5 p.m. Friday, March 24.

NORCOR was created in 1996 through an intergovernmental agreement between the counties.

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