Oregon Public Broadcasting

Local governments hoping to scrape together a little money -- or sometimes a lot of money -- are taking their case to voters, this month.

The May ballot is filled with local property tax measures. But some jurisdictions are adjusting their expectations, in the face of a tough economy.

Multnomah County has one of the most-used library systems in the country. But with a tax levy responsible for two-thirds of library funding due to expire, supporters were cautious.

Last January, county commissioner Diane McKeel underscored the levy's importance.

"Passage of the levy in May is an important short-term solution to keep our libraries open. This will mean no additional cost to the taxpayer, but will lead to a cut in hours and services."

Now, notice that McKeel said: "No additional cost to the taxpayer."

And that's one way to balance the dollar amount you need against the amount voters will approve -- the big dilemma facing cities and counties, schools and sheriffs.

"If you go out, and you ask for too much, and the voters vote it down, it could be a while before you could bring an issue back to the voters," accordiing to Jim Green with the Oregon School Boards Association.

His home district of Salem-Keizer asked voters to approve a $242 million bond measure, three and a half years ago.

"The actual need in Salem-Keizer schools was twice what they went out for, but they looked at the ability to get something passed."

And in the midst of the recession, Salem-Keizer got voter approval of the biggest K-12 bond in state history.

Green says it helped that the new bond was timed to hit taxpayers at the same time other taxes were expiring - to avoid raising people's taxes.

That's the primary focus in the David Douglas School District for this election, according to the district's board chair, Annette Mattson.

"While the board is very aware of the facility needs that our buildings have, as they age, it was a priority to not increase the taxes in our community. We are very aware, that like many communities, there are financial struggles going on."

Mattson says the nearly $50 million bond will provide enough money to address immediate infrastructure needs. But she says longer-term challenges will have to wait.

The library levy is also considered a "short-term fix," but the county isn't waiting long on a more permanent change.

County leaders plan to ask voter approval in November for a new library district, with a permanent tax rate to stabilize services.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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