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Public safety tax opponents speak up.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

The first sign of opposition to a new countywide tax for public safety emerged this week in Cottage Grove, and observers warn that it's not likely the last.

Businessman Tim Schweitzer said 51 Cottage Grove residents and business owners signed his petition Monday opposing any type of tax for public safety and demanding the right to vote on the matter. Nevertheless, the Cottage Grove City Council voted in support of the Lane County commissioners enacting a sales tax, one of two options under consideration.

Schweitzer's effort comes as the commissioners brace for a hectic few weeks in which they will try to chart a course for public safety in Lane County.

The commissioners on Wednesday will discuss the sales tax and a tax on business sales as options to fund additions to public safety, ranging from treatment programs to more staffing at the Lane County Jail, Commissioner Faye Stewart said Friday. The board could decide the matter as soon as Nov. 2, following a public hearing on that date, he said.

The five commissioners have shown no consensus in favor of a sales tax or business tax for public safety, or whether to enact a tax or put it before the voters.

Stewart, who proposed the 1 percent sales tax and a concurrent reduction in property taxes, said the May 16 primary election looms as an important deadline.

If the commissioners choose to enact a tax, Stewart said they should do so by early November.

That's because he believes enacting the tax will spark opponents to petition to put the tax up to a vote May 16 and the commissioners would want information explaining reasons for the tax in the same May 16 voters' pamphlet. The deadline to submit that information is the first week of November, Stewart said.

Enacting the tax after early November could be the "kiss of death," Stewart said, because opponents could still refer the issue to the May 16 ballot - but there would be no information explaining the reasons behind the tax in the voters' pamphlet.

The board wants the matter resolved before the general election in November 2006, when the addition of a public safety tax to the ballot would compete with other money measures, Stewart said.

If, however, the board votes soon to put a public safety tax before the voters, it would have an additional 90 days to craft an ordinance for voters to consider in May, Stewart said.

At least six local communities have voted on taxes for public safety, Stewart said. Cottage Grove, Creswell, Veneta and Florence have voted in support of a sales tax or business tax; Lowell voted for public safety improvements but didn't specify how to pay for them; and Oakridge said it first wants a review of county spending.

Stewart said Schweitzer's petition is the only opposition he's aware of, but he expects more in the weeks ahead.

"For me to believe that I'm going to present (a sales tax) and the citizens are going to embrace it with open arms is quite foolish," he said. "There's an incredible amount of work to be done in educating the citizens about how badly this is needed."

One group that needs convincing is the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce.

In a recent poll of 158 of the 1,200 members, 61 percent opposed the sales tax/property tax rebate option, 84 percent opposed the tax on business sales, and 80 percent opposed the commissioners enacting a tax without a public vote, said Terry Connolly, director of government affairs. Businesses want the commissioners to resolve the county's long-term funding for federal timber lands in its borders before pursuing taxes for public safety.
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Title Annotation:Government; Petition signers oppose any type of tax and seek to put the issue before voters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 15, 2005
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