Funding Washington HS Community Center

By Nancy Tannler

On January 6, Linda Nettekoven, HAND NA and Jeff Cole, Sunnyside NA, appeared before City Council to remind them that a portion of the property at Washington HS, SE Stark & 12th, is to be a Community Center.

Nettekoven was also representing community activist Mary Ann Schwab who was unable to make the session.

Nettekoven stated the importance of not letting this project fall by the wayside especially since PDC has $985,000 set aside to begin construction on the community center.

This money was reserved from the original $5.4 million TIF (Tax Increment Financing) fund used by the City to purchase the land in 2004 from Portland Public Schools. The availability of these funds expire if they are not used before June of 2017.

Another portion of this conundrum is the 1.31 acre piece of land in the same block that both Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman agreed should be purchased for the community center. This was part of the original Conditional Use Plan. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) on this piece of property expires in May of 2017.

The timeline on securing funding and beginning the community center is starting to run out. Nettekoven asked City Council to extend these expiration dates another five years.

In Jeff Cole’s commentary, he asked City Council for $60 million to begin building the community center. Cole states that with all the budget cuts to Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), it must seem like asking for the Taj Mahal or the moon, but in reality, this is money the City of Portland should have considering the building boom going on right now.

“So why as Portland is booming and growing like crazy, are we cutting budgets, cutting services which means reduced livability?” Cole asks.

Even as apartments are going up everywhere and the population increases, it still fails to generate more resources to attend to the basic needs of the people like police and decent roads.

Cole believes that fix lies in a statewide ban on the real estate transfer tax and uses the example of the recent sale of Big Pink appraised at 1/3 of 1 billion dollars–$372.5 million.

Because of Measure #47/50 the City only received taxes on the 1995 value of Big Pink with a 3 percent increase per year or $1.4 million. If the property had been fairly reassessed when it sold last year we would have received $4 million in tax revenue off this property.

Oregon is the only state that does not reassess taxes when a property is sold and because of this Portland loses out.

This is one of the reasons the business of demolition is so lucrative for the City. If a developer demos the building and puts up new construction that can be fully assessed at Market Value with the 3% increase per year cap, there’s good money to be made on Property Tax revenues. This is compounded if the replacement is a large apartment complex.

Because of this fact there is no financial value to the City to preserve existing houses since they aren’t paying a property tax, when sold, that’s congruous with market rate value.

Cole believes that property tax reform is the solution to the empty coffers that beleaguers the City’s government. He makes the correlation between Big Pink and the City’s ability to pay for a Community Center in Buckman.

If the City approved a twenty year bond or loan at 3% for $60 million to go ahead with the community center, annual payments would equal $4 million. If the sale of Big Pink in 2015 had been reassessed at its current value, the City would be receiving $4.4 million per year in tax dollars –enough to make the community center payment.

If a detailed analysis were available of what it would mean to the City to restore full property tax reassessment upon sale or transfer, stakeholders might support this new initiative tax reform.

Although any mention of  taxation has people recoiling at the thought, there are incentives to support property tax reform that could include targeted give- backs: the repeal of niche tax fees like the arts tax and the leaf collection fee; reduce system development charges or reduce business taxes.

Backed by popular demand  the land at Washington HS is  still slated for a much-needed community center. The citizens of inner SE are willing to do the work by paying for a bond or looking at other ways to get the money.

As Nettekoven said at the hearing, “ We have supported the urban renewal of downtown, the Pearl and other parts of the City. Now it’s our turn.”

If definite action isn’t taken soon what funding is available could be absorbed into other projects and the Community Center will continue to be only a dream.

Funding Washington HS Community Center

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