The Umatilla County Animal Control District sponsored by the Pioneer Humane Society will appear on the ballot in Pendleton, but not without opposition.
The Pendleton City Council voted 4-2 to put the taxing district on the November ballot, with councilors Scott Fairley and Dale Primmer voting against it.
Fairley and Primmer feared that sending the issue to the ballot would open the door for other nonprofits to seek additional revenue via a taxing district. The city already pays the humane society $16,500 per year for animal control, and the councilors argued the city could avoid potential property tax compression if it renegotiated the allocation rather than create a new taxing district.
In the wake of measures 47 and 50, property tax rates in Oregon are “compressed” for municipal governments if the real market value of a property exceeds $10 per $1,000. The animal control district’s 10-cent rate would bring Pendleton closer to compression, and some councilors worried that the creation of new taxing district would negatively affect city revenue.
Paul Chalmers, a city councilor and the Umatilla County director of assessment and taxation, said it was difficult to anticipate how much Pendleton would lose from compression because each property’s real market value is different.
In an interview after the meeting, humane society board president Jackie Carey said she did not think the animal control district would affect compression too much because of its relatively low rate.
The society, which operates the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter, has contended that it needs a boost in revenue or it will run the risk of closing permanently.
The estimated $300,000 the humane society would bring in from taxpayers would go toward hiring new staff, expanding spay and neutering services, locating a new pound facility and funding repairs at the shelter.
If voters approve the animal control district in November, Carey said the humane society would retain its nonprofit board, which is not an elected board.
Although the board would have oversight over the bolstered budget, Carey said the budget meetings would be open to the public.
Fairley and Primmer were vocal about their concerns, but found themselves in the minority when it came time to vote.
Chalmers said he was hesitant to prevent the community from voting on an issue by blocking it from the ballot.
“We have to be careful about ‘We the council’ versus ‘We the people,’” he said.
With councilors Chuck LeValle and Neil Brown absent, councilors McKennon McDonald, Becky Marks and Jake Cambier joined Chalmers to put the district on the ballot.
Although the Umatilla County Animal Control District will appear on ballots in Pendleton and much of the rest of Umatilla County, some cities decided to forgo the vote completely.
Neither Hermiston nor Milton-Freewater are putting the district on their ballots and taxpayers there will pay nothing even if the measure passes in Pendleton.
Mark Morgan, Hermiston assistant city manager, wrote in an email that city officials met with humane society representatives to talk about the district, but came away unconvinced.
“The largest issues with regard to animal control come down to who’s going to collect the animals, and where they will be housed once they’re collected; this proposal provides no discernible benefit to residents of Hermiston or the surrounding area in those regards,” he wrote. “The PAWS facilities would be located 30 miles away, and they indicated that any service with regard to collecting animals would be done through an additional contract with the local jurisdictions. The city of Hermiston already has a contract for these services to be provided locally at a lower cost, so the proposed district appears to add no value to our taxpayers.”
Election Day is Nov. 6.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.