SALEM, OR -- Local officials are urging state lawmakers to support a bill that aims to provide some local control over transit funding. Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) Transportation Manager Karen Friend testified before the House Transportation Committee, this week, advocating for HB 2745. She says its passage would allow voters in big and small cities to decide separately what they’re willing to pay for. "In some cases, it allows cities to clearly embrace the prospect of additional transit funding; in others, it allows them to clearly reject it; and yet others, it allows them to keep their options open for future consideration and to pursue funding if and when they feel the time is right."
The Mayors of Bend and La Pine also testified in Salem, this week, along with Bend City Manager Eric King. King says the management of Cascades East Transit should be a model for other regions. "It provides that kind of creative, innovative approach in leveraging an agency such as COIC, versus the traditional transit district model, where it’s a very single-focused entity with its own bureaucracy. We just feel that, why re-create something when we have a structure in place that’s been working for the city and really working for the region." He added, "The challenge for Bend is that we’re very fiscally constrained. We’ve got a tax rate of $2.80; per Measures 5 and 50 that rate is frozen. We struggle to provide police, fire and road maintenance services within our general fund. A solution, such as the one being proposed, allows us to take the transit dollars out of our general fund, have sustainable funding through a vote of the people in Bend, connect it to a regional system, and then our intent is to redirect those dollars to much needed road maintenance."
Bend Mayor Casey Roats told the committee, "One of the things I like about it [HB 2745] is that each community can match the level of service to the amount it wants to pay for that service. So, rather than having a transit district where people all around Central Oregon would be paying the same rate through their property taxes, it gives communities like Bend the option to enhance their level of service. Whereas, members of Crook County or Jefferson County can keep their rate at the levels they think they need."
La Pine Mayor Dennis Scott also testified in favor of the bill, which is sponsored by District 59 State Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles). Dozens of other Central Oregon cities and organizations submitted written testimony in support of the bill, including OSU-Cascades, Redmond Proficiency Academy, Housing Works, NeighborImpact and Bend 2030.