May 16 election: $790 million school bond, short-term rental tax

What you need to know before you vote in the May 16 Multnomah County election. 

PORTLAND, Ore. – On May 16, Portland voters will consider whether to pony up hundreds of dollars a year to fund the biggest school bond in the city’s history.

That’s just one of the measures on the May ballot. Lake Oswego and Mount Hood Community College also want millions for renovations. In addition, voters will weigh in on school board elections in every district, taxes for short-term rentals, and giving a city official more independence. 

Not every measure will appear on each ballot – only the ones that fall within that district. Here’s what you need to know before you vote.

Note: KGW does not issue endorsements for elections. For the full voter’s pamphlet, including descriptions of school board candidates, click below:

Multnomah County

Clackamas County

Washington County

$790 million Portland School Bond

Five years ago, Portland voters approved what was then a record $482 million bond to renovate and rebuild four schools – Roosevelt High School, Franklin High School, Grant High School and Faubion K-8 – and repair dozens of other schools. Now, the school board is asking for another $790 million to renovate and rebuild four more schools, make smaller repairs on other schools, and conduct health and safety updates to fix dangerous lead, asbestos and radon issues.

How much you’ll pay

The bond won’t come cheap to homeowners. It will cost $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed home value for the first four years and less after that, with an average of $0.68 per $1,000 over 30 years. That shakes out to $280 for each of the first four years for a homeowner with a home tax-assessed at $200,000, and an average of $136 annually over 30 years.

Homeowners are still paying back the 2012 bond, with the last payment posting in 2032. The 2012 bond cost $1.10 per $1,000 for the first eight years and 30 cents per $1,000 for the next 12 years (an average of $124 a year overall for a home tax-assessed at $200,000).

What the bond will do

Portland schools are very old – 77 years on average – and with that comes a host of health and safety issues. Last year, testing showed nearly all Portland schools had high lead levels in the water from sinks, spigots or drinking fountains. Many schools are also hotbeds for peeling lead paint, radon and asbestos.  Portland Public Schools says $150 million of the bond money will go toward immediately addressing those issues district-wide. That portion will also fund some roof replacements, upgrade security, fix fire systems and improve ADA access.

The remaining $640 million will rebuild and renovate four schools: Benson, Madison and Lincoln high schools, and Kellogg middle school. Benson, Madison and Kellogg are in disrepair, according to school officials. Lincoln isn’t in as bad shape but it’s severely overcrowded. PPS spokesman Dave Northfield said generally, it takes about two years to complete a high school renovation but the construction timeline has not yet been set.

Who supports it

Portland students have lobbied for the bond, conducting a sit-in at a school board meeting and a school walk-out last September to push for the bond on the May ballot.

The school bond also has support from every major local newspaper and many public officials, including the mayor. There is no organized opposition to the bond.

What the 2012 bond is doing

The district has made quick work of the 2012 bond money, with Roosevelt High School, Franklin High School and Faubion K-8 renovations expected to finish in August 2017. Construction starts on Grant High School in June 2017, and that project should be done by August 2019.

KGW’s Fly8 drone flew over the new Franklin High School Tuesday.

The Portland school is set to re-open to students in August 2017. It was funded by a Portland Public Schools bond package.

Most of the schools slated to received safety upgrades have already, but that work is continuing at some more schools this summer.

Read more: Ahead of election, Lincoln students show us the problems at their school

Transient lodgings tax

Right now, short-term rental companies are not required to pay city transient lodgings tax on rental fees, even though hotels that function much in the same way as sites like AirBnb, VRBO and HomeAway have to. Measure 26-194 would change that by charging short-term rental companies a 6 percent tax. Five percent would go to fire, police and other basic city services. Another 1 percent would go toward attracting convention business and tourism.

AirBnb, which has its operational headquarters in Portland, already pays a city tax, but other sites do not. HomeAway, which is based in Texas, wrote a strongly worded opposition statement in the voter’s guide, arguing the measure gives the city too much authority to tax businesses without voter control.

City Auditor

Portland’s current city auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, is asking for more independence to audit city agencies in Measure 26-189. The measure would give Caballero more autonomy to investigate city agencies, including city hall, to make sure they are open and accountable.

Right now, Caballero sometimes has to ask permission from the agencies she audits for legal help, budget requests and staffing. That could present a conflict of interest, Caballero argues. That potential issue was highlighted when former mayor Charlie Hales questioned the office’s relevancy

The measure would give the city auditor access to records related to complaints, the ability to consult with independent legal counsel, and more control over staffing and budgets.

All current city councilors as well as the past three city auditors have endorsed the measure.

$187 million Lake Oswego school bond

Lake Oswego doesn’t have the same lead issues as Portland, but many of its buildings still need safety upgrades and renovations. Like Portland, Lake Oswego needs to fix its buildings.

The Lake Oswego school bond would add and expand classrooms, add seismic upgrades, increase safety and security, replace the exterior on Oak Creek Elementary and completely replace Lakeridge Junior High, which has structural damage from unstable soil.

How much you’ll pay

The school district is asking Lake Oswego homeowners to pay $1.25 per $1,000 of tax-assessed value. In the wealthy suburb, where the average home is assessed at $340,000, that shakes out to $425 per year.

$75 million Mount Hood Community College bond

Mount Hood Community College has been asking for extra funding for decades without success – six times since its last general obligation bond in 1974.

The technical career-focused college in Gresham says it desperately needs $75 million to construct a new applied technology center, improve campus safety and security, make seismic upgrades, and refinance debt. If the bond passes, the state will give MHCC an extra $8 million in matching funds.

How much you’ll pay

The $75 million bond will be paid back by homeowners over 21 years. For someone with a home tax-assed at $200,000, the bond will cost $46 per year.

Not all Multnomah County voters would be on the hook for this tax – some other districts are already paying for other community college upgrades. Parts of East Portland are in the MHCC district, as are Troutdale, Gresham, Sandy and Government Camp. 

How to vote

Oregon voters will receive ballots in the mail by May 4. Mail back the ballot or drop it off at an official drop site. Ballots must be received by Election Day, May 16. If you didn’t receive a ballot, order a replacement here.

Published May 3, 2017

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