Voters in the city of Umatilla will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed Oregon State University Extension Service District after all.
The Umatilla City Council decided Tuesday to reconsider a resolution putting the formation of a new taxing district on the May 2018 ballot. The resolution, which was previously rejected by the council, this time passed by a slim 3-2 margin with councilors Roak TenEyck, Selene Torres-Medrano and Mel Ray in favor and Michael Roxbury and Mark Keith opposed. Councilor Mark Ribich was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
The reversal means that every city in Umatilla and Morrow counties will now be able to vote on whether the new tax district moves forward. If created, the district would collect 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to help support OSU Extension programs, such as 4-H, Master Gardeners and both agricultural research stations in Hermiston and Pendleton.
It was Ray who ultimately proved to be the swing vote Tuesday, changing his position after he said he was contacted personally by two residents wondering why they would not be allowed to have a say in the matter.
“I was on the fence to start with,” Ray said. “It was a very tough decision.”
No other councilor changed their opinion. TenEyck said the formation of a new OSU Extension Service District is best left to the voters, adding that the importance of agriculture in the region cannot be underestimated.
Roxbury, however, said the city needs to focus its tax dollars on other major utility and infrastructure projects coming down the pike. He also raised the concern of bumping against the tax compression cap.
“Thirty-three cents is not a modest tax,” Roxbury said.
Roxbury added that OSU does not necessarily need the city of Umatilla to create its district, and if the measure passes local residents would be saddled with an additional county-wide tax whether or not they voted yes or no.
But if the district passes and the city was not included within the district boundary, OSU Extension would be left to charge an additional fee for its services. Heidi Sipe, Umatilla School District superintendent, said 4-H and supplemental child nutrition programs provided by OSU Extension are an essential part of the school system, and schools would have to find a way to cover the added cost.
As an aspiring physician, Torres-Medrano said she understands the importance of after-school nutrition and college-readiness programs provided by OSU Extension.
“I know the impact these programs are going to have on our kids,” she said. “I believe that we can make a successful future for our residents.”
Umatilla County commissioners recently voted to start the process of forming the OSU Extension Service District ahead of the vote next May. A separate district is also being proposed in Morrow County, where all five incorporated cities have passed resolutions putting the proposal on the ballot.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.