Falls City may poll voters

FALLS CITY -- The City Council of Falls City is considering conducting a survey to gauge support for a tax levy to buy property near the town's namesake falls on the Little Luckiamute River.

FALLS CITY -- The City Council of Falls City is considering conducting a survey to gauge support for a tax levy to buy property near the town's namesake falls on the Little Luckiamute River.

Last month, the council approved placing a $150,000, five-year bond levy before voters in November. Money from the bond would have purchased privately owned property to create a park near the falls.

The effort failed when the city missed the Sept. 2 deadline to turn in paperwork and provide proper legal notice of the levy's inclusion on the ballot.

The idea for the survey apparently sprung out of reaction from residents who did not approve of increasing taxes to gain access to the falls.

"My awareness of the public perception has expanded in the last couple weeks," Council President John Volkmann said.

Volkmann read written testimony from three residents at the council's Sept. 14 meeting.

"We wish to inform the council that this (the levy) is a very bad idea and we do not want it on the ballot and we would not vote for it," wrote Falls City resident Mark Salleng, who noted he was writing on behalf of his household at that of 10 others in the city. "The only property tax increase I'm willing to pay for is police services."

Another letter submitted by George and Claudia Sperry objected to pursuing a levy during bad economic times. They stated that public safety and infrastructure should be the city's priorities and if the tax increase had passed, it would benefit only a few taxpayers.

Several residents at the meeting testified to similar views, preferring the city focus more on providing police service and caring for streets, water plants and sewer plants.

Councilor Bruce Garrett, who voted against putting the levy on the ballot, supported conducting a survey. He said after the August meeting in which the council voted on the matter that his objection was in part because he wasn't certain how many residents would support it.

"I think a poll, a survey, a questionnaire, is long overdue," he said. "I think it's part of being transparent, part of being informed."

Councilor Henry Hughes, who supported the levy, said the issue has grown more complex since the council and supporters decided to work together on a levy.

He approved of a survey and said he would find out if the city could get help preparing it, perhaps from staff at Western Oregon University.

Little Luckiamute Alliance to Save the Falls members also attended the meeting, looking for answers about the failure to place the levy on the ballot and to voice their disappointment.

Alliance member Laura Britton said the group was aware the city didn't have much time to prepare the levy for the ballot -- about 12 working days in all, according to City Administrator Gian Paolo Mammone -- but believed it could still be done.

"We believe we no longer can take what the city administration says in blind faith," Britton said.

Volkmann said the council should look into what mistakes were made in preparing the levy for the ballot.

"I think we need to look at the process," Volkmann said. "I think it's appropriate to ask how it happened."

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