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Letters to the Editor: 5-16-2013

BILL OF GOODS

Voters should reject the proposed city services fee on the May ballot. It is regressive and open-ended taxation subject to change at the whim of a future City Council. Lower income folks, renters and small businesses will pay the same as wealthy citizens and large corporations. 

Some of those corporations (especially out-of-town developers responsible for a local housing bubble) could continue to receive large development tax breaks to make more apartments than our local economy can support. Our City Council should end those tax breaks and reap enough development funds to pay for CAHOOTS, police, fire, branch libraries and Sheldon Pool. 

Voting for a fee under threat of losing services is a poor and myopic way to envision a future. Let’s be smart enough to see a bait-and-switch move fueled by wealthy interests proposed by the city manager. A majority of city councilors have seen the wisdom of finding another approach to Eugene’s budget crunch.

Eugene citizens have approved positive taxation schemes including bond measures for parks and open spaces, road improvement measures, stormwater fees that help us provide cleaner downstream inputs and funds to shore up schools. But there is a difference in a bond measure for libraries that is paid according to the value of property and a flat fee that hits up folks every month. Don’t be fooled by the city’s multicolored promotions. This so-called “fee” is really a disguised sales tax. The city manager is selling us a bill of goods.

Ethen Perkins, Eugene

 

NO FEAR OF BIG BAD FEE

I’ll be here in 2015; my friends and family will be here, too. Most of my neighbors aren’t going anywhere. Most of us pay attention to what is going on in our community, and most of us vote.

A majority of us are voting “yes” on Measure 20-211, the city services fee, because we know the fee won’t be spent on extraneous programs after 2014, despite bald-faced claims to the contrary. We know our councilors, and know they’ll pass the robust low-income assistance program proposed by them last week, which reduces the fee for everyone below median income and eliminates for any person who makes 185 percent of the poverty line and below.

The citizen oversight board will watch the dollars and make sure they fund vital services, which is outlined in the proposed law. Heads will roll at the ballot box if the fee isn’t implemented as (plainly) stated in the measure and its binding resolution.

So I’m not afraid of the Big Bad Fee — it is necessary, and I’ll gladly roll up my sleeves and put up my fists to protect our pools, libraries, police, fire, CAHOOTS and services for our youth and mentally ill. It won’t be a cakewalk for most of us, but it’s better than making sausage of our townspeople to toss out back as food for the dogs.

Pearl Shapland, Eugene

 

REPAIRING OUR SCHOOLS

The League of Women Voters of Lane County urges voters in Eugene’s 4J School District to support Measure 20-210, which would allow the district to issue $170 million in bonds to replace and repair aging school buildings. These improvements should cut operating expenses for the district and free up general fund dollars for other uses, such as teachers and educational programs. The funds also would be used for much-needed technology improvements to schools throughout the district and to update instructional materials, purchase buses and provide for additional safety and security features.

This investment in our schools is expected to cost an estimated 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation or $48 annually for the owner of a $200,000 home. 

The measure is part of a long-range plan which began with approval of an earlier bond measure in 2002. The district has avoided sudden increases in property tax rates by paying off older bonds before issuing new ones. Interest rates and construction costs are low right now, making this a good time to replace the outdated buildings. 

A good education system is an important part of economic development. One of the first questions always asked by those considering relocating is about the quality of local schools. Approval of Measure 20-210 will make our schools and community stronger.

We urge you to vote “yes.”

Sue Boyd & Susan Tavakolian, Co-presidents,  LWV of Lane County

 

POLITICAL EXTORTION

Bonny Bettman McCornack, a political presence in Eugene for decades, has come out of retirement to actively oppose the Eugene city services fee on the May 21 ballot. It is her view that Measure 20-211 is not only a regressive tax but that it is not really needed by the city in order to maintain its current level of services. 

Bettman McCornack has served many years on both the City Council and Budget Committee and, unlike many of those she served with, always did her homework and was always well prepared. Bettman McCornack’s integrity is beyond repute and her expertise is unmatched.

Contrary to what some of her current detractors have suggested, Bettman McCornack has not turned her back on the poor. In fact she has not changed her political persuasions one iota. So who are you going to believe? Bettman McCornack, or a couple of well-off spinmeisters sitting in safe seats on the council spouting their talking points while claiming that those who vote “no” do not want the essential services that they have put on the chopping block in order to coerce voters into voting “yes”? Their threats are not thinly veiled. They are a blatantly naked attempt at political extortion. Not only do all Eugene voters want these essential services, they have already paid for them. 

Nick Urhausen, Eugene 

 

NO CONFIDENCE

I’m glad Robbie Cunningham [5/9] caught my reference to The Who’s anthem, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” in my “rabid” comments about the city head tax, aka “service fee.” I also enjoyed Cunningham’s riposte (seriously), especially his final plea to “try to d-dig what we all s-say.”

This will be the first local revenue measure I’ve ever voted against. I could probably look past failings of the city once again and pony up if it weren’t for the fact that a number of us have too clear an inside view of the toxic mix of incompetence and duplicity the city manager has created and the mayor has enabled.

First, city staff blatantly misled the City Council about the financial assessment of the Capstone project, about the presence of lead on the site, about the demolition risks, about statutory requirements for MUPTE approvals and land use actions, and numerous other important issues. In years of being involved with civic issues, during terms of both “conservative” and “liberal” mayors, and with a wide range of city managers, I’ve never seen such lack of integrity and a mayor so willing to cover for it.

Second, look at the recently posted list of jobs to be cut: fireman, Teen Court, neighborhood services, library, etc. Yet not even half an FTE out of the Planning and Development Department. A lot of time spent by the high-paid members of the Development Division is nothing more than promoting and running interference for developers to get tax breaks and other financial benefits. 

The Planning Division has too many “long range” planners who are completely out of touch with reality or community values. I’ve worked at the “living room” level in neighborhoods all across Eugene, and the level of anger and frustration at the wasteful (at best) and harmful (all too often) actions of this little “clique” is pervasive.

None of this will improve until the city manager (and mayor) are held accountable and, unfortunately, this latest deceptive and stupidly crafted measure has become the measure whereby citizens across the left-right spectrum can vote “no confidence.”

  Paul Conte, Eugene

 

MISLEADING CLAIMS

I’ve read and felt the need to correct a handful of several wildly inaccurate claims made recently by opponents of Measure 20-211, the Eugene city services fee. Among those fictional claims are that the fee will extend into perpetuity once instituted and that it is a “bait and switch” that will allow the money to raise revenue for expenditures revolving around some dark, ulterior motive. Despite their seeming discordance with reality, these talking points resonate with voters.

What ought to resonate with voters is the truth, and the voices of State Reps. Phil Barnhart, Val Hoyle, John Lively, Paul Holvey and Nancy Nathanson. What ought to resonate are the voices of State Sens. Lee Beyer, Chris Edwards and Floyd Prozanski, and the voices of AFSCME Local 1724, IAFF Local 851 and SEIU Local 503, OPEU.

Any voter who reads the measure will find the following language:

“Five years after the effective date of the fee, the City Council shall conduct a review of the city service fee to determine whether the fee should be revised or terminated,” and “Revenues shall be limited to (a) paying for fire and police service, homeless and human services, and quality of life services such as libraries and pools, (b) establishing reserves for these purposes, and (c) the billing, collection and administration of the city service fee ... The city service fee shall not be used to pay for any other function of the city.”

Every political campaign has those who use spooky language as a means of distracting people from the truth. This campaign is no different, as opponents of the fee have manufactured misdirection, preventing reasonable democratic dialogue about how to solve our $6 million budget problem. Their efforts ought rather be directed toward providing more honest and substantive alternatives.

I’ll be casting my vote for the only prudent option we have: “yes” on the city services fee. Eugene cares.

Joe Jacklin, Eugene

 

MANIPULATIVE MEASURE

For the past 30 years I have voted for nearly every local tax to support Eugene schools, parks and libraries. But I am voting no on 20-211. Unfortunately, this measure is unfair, poorly crafted and dishonest.

This tax hurts our lower income neighbors, struggling students, local businesses and nonprofits. For example, many UO and LCC students will pay the same “fee” as the president of the UO. St. Vincent de Paul will pay $2,880 for its eight retail stores. Additionally, St. Vincent or its low-income tenants will pay $120 each for hundreds of low-income apartments. By contrast, Walmart will pay $360 for each of its two megastores. Low income relief is still hypothetical and such programs are notoriously difficult to formulate.

The measure is so poorly thought out that as a university professor, I would give it an F. For example, although the money can only be used for the purposes listed, the measure does not require that the fee support all of the services listed. Thus a future council could spend 100 percent of the fee on the police. And almost anything fits under the undefined category “quality of life services.”

The city hired a consultant to identify the service cuts that would most effectively convince the public to pass this measure. In addition to being manipulative, this completely bypasses the proper budgeting process. This kind of decision should be made by our City Council acting on the recommendation of Eugene’s Budget Committee. We should expect better from our city government.

Virginia Lo, Retired UO professor of computer science

 

EVADING RESPONSIBILITY

FDR warned us “against the smooth evasion” of those who say they support social programs, yet provide no real way to pay for them.

Bonny Bettman McCornack & Co. remind me of the FDR warning I watched online. Like FDR’s opponents, they say, “Of course we believe these things. We believe in Social Security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes — but we don’t like the way the present administration is doing them.” That’s fair, but their only proposed alternatives are selling our public parks to private developers, or burning through savings, which would lead to sky-rocketing interest rates on city bonds and bleed our reserves.

A max fee of $10 a month, with a low-income exemption that will eliminate the fee for anyone up to 185 percent of poverty line, and reduce it for up to 400 percent of poverty line. It can only pay for vital services. That’s what we’re looking at — if we heed FDR’s warning against “cool evasion.”

The strongest parallel between the FDR speech and fee-haters is when he pokes fun at those who say of social services: “We will do all of them. We will do more of them. We will do them better. And — most important of all — the doing of them will not cost anybody, anything.” I wouldn’t bank on it. That’s why I’m voting “yes” on Measure 20-211.

Kellis Alexander, Eugene

 

VAGUE & MURKY

In her EW letter May 9, Ruby Golden states falsely that your “no” vote on Ballot Measure 20-211 will be responsible for stopping city funding for CAHOOTS, Buckley House, Looking Glass, etc. It is the mayor, City Council and city manager who are responsible for putting those programs on the butcher block. They are currently funded and there is no reason, beyond scare-tactic politics, they should not continue to be funded.

There are many other places where cuts could be made if they are (and that is arguable) necessary. There are many other ways to raise money.

How much is it going to cost to set up a new bureaucracy of social services to identify low-income people who can’t afford this fee? Will this social service also have to raise the money to pay this fee? If they did not intend to hurt poor people with this fee, why didn’t they just income cap it? For example: Households with less than $30,000 a year income are automatically exempt. No bureaucracy, just send in a copy of your tax return. This ballot measure and this city’s leadership decision to cut these programs is politics at its worst. 

This local government ballot measure is clear and concise in what they will cut if you vote “no.” They are murky and vague in what they will implement if you vote “yes.” In the very long list of things that are wrong with this ballot measure, extremely poorly written, broad, blank check, forever and inequitable scream for a “no.” 

Come back at us with a good measure and we can talk. Don’t be pushed into panic and fear for all the programs they threaten to take away. Volunteer to be on the city Budget Committee. Demand a low-income representative for all city committees. Please vote “no” on 20-211! 

Patricia Hadley, Eugene

 

 

FEE IS OK

These past few weeks I thought I had been reading letters to the editor and opinion articles about the city service fee. I now realize I was mistaken. I had actually been reading my neighbors opine on a whole bunch of other stuff that is only tangentially related to Measure 20-211, at best.

Let’s cut right to it: Am I willing to pay 5 or 10 bucks each month to maintain our city’s fire service, libraries, pools, and community mental health services? Yep, I am.

If someone is not able to afford the fee, they can get it reduced. Helping our neighbors is what this is all about, and I’m happy to step up and lend a hand. It’s that simple.

Eugene has been cutting, cutting, and cutting for years now. These are real services that people rely on, and real people will be very negatively affected if Eugeneans do not come together on this issue. Let’s put all the extraneous distractions aside and answer “yes” to the actual question on the ballot.

Jake Foster, Eugene

 

DRINKO DE MAYO

On the lead up to the 5th of May, many students began drinking heavily for “Cinco de Mayo.” To celebrate, white students wore sombreros and ponchos; these depicted stereotypes of Latinos and represent a narrow and hurtful lack of cultural understanding. (trigger warning) I saw groups of 10 and 20 students stumbling past my house fighting with each other and talking about how they were going to get drunk and try to have sex, shouting racist slurs, and some openly talking about raping women. 

The lack of discussion and programming from the university administration is a disturbing silence. In their absence, the 5th of May is the anniversary of the battle of the Puebla — against the French, and is not widely celebrated in Mexico. It has been popularized in the U.S. by the alcohol industry to profit from the stereotypes depicted above.

It hurts me to think that my fellow white students only view Latinos and Hispanics as rural laborers, drunks and sexual objects. This behavior is profoundly racist, patriarchal, and creates a dangerous climate of domination. I am upset that it wasn’t just a few students, it was house parties, mobs of groups on both sides of Alder and Hilyard streets, and spilling out for blocks in every direction. We have to hold each other to a higher standard, there is no excuse for racist costumes and rape jokes; we can do better. What happened this past weekend was a disgrace.

Cimmeron Gillespie, Back to Back coordinator, Community Alliance of Lane County

 

NOT A DEMOCRACY

As important as voting is, ensuring accuracy in the vote counting is far more critical. In reading an article written by a man who had looked at the software that’s used to count the votes in Oregon, he said it was “shot through with opportunities for fraud.” If the vote counting is being manipulated then we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a dictatorship and our government officials are appointed and not elected. 

The courts have consistently upheld that the public doesn’t have the right to view that proprietary software. Which means of course that the public doesn’t have the right to validate the vote counts; we just have to take the secretary of state’s word for it. Why vote? This is not a democracy; it’s a dictatorship.

Dan Hill, Cottage Grove