Eugene officials have options to raise more money and consistently fund initiatives to address climate change and homelessness, but first they want to know where the money would go.
There are several funding options — most involve raising taxes — and many of those options would need voter approval.
Voters, who have told Councilor Greg Evans they’re “tax fatigued” and “tapped out,” are likely to want the same information the council requested.
“If people feel tapped out, they’re less likely to support any kind of revenue measure that goes on the ballot. What I think we have to do is follow the same strategies that we did with the road fund and the bond measure that we passed,” Evans said during a recent work session. “Our citizens need to see what they’re going to get for their money. They want to see that return on investment.”
Staff told councilors that there were a number of investments they could make, including energy efficiency, increased urban forestry, business engagement, and active transportation.
Staff are working together to create a project list that can be implemented with community input. This will help to identify the areas where money is most needed and where it could be most effective. Then, they would calculate the cost estimates to determine the amount of funding that is required.
Many possible investment strategies
Alan Zelenka, Councilor, suggested the work session. It explored funding options for initiatives related to climate change and homelessness. The two don’t necessarily have to be combined, he said, but he thinks they should be on “parallel tracks.”
His intent was for the work session to determine whether councilors think initiatives to address both crises need dedicated funding and, if so, to give staff “direction to develop an actionable project list.”
He stated that discussion about how to structure funding will take place later.
Twylla, Finance Director, told councilors that there are many possible investments. These include:
- Stabilizing funding to address homelessness
- Operating a navigation center that’s set to open next year
- Permanent supportive housing
- Provide staffing to support the unhoused by providing ongoing and expanded work
- Urban forestry should be encouraged to increase its rate
- Enhancing environmental resiliency
- Mitigating natural hazards
- Building an electric vehicle, and mobility infrastructure
- Active transportation supported
- Increasing energy efficiency
- Climate issues: Engaging businesses
The council’s discussion focused largely on homelessness, including the need for permanent, supportive housing.
But dealing with homelessness isn’t just about throwing more money at the problem, councilors said.
“I don’t think the biggest problem in dealing with homelessness is not having enough money,” Councilor Mike Clark said. “I think it’s how we, as a council, weigh in ourselves toward enabling people to stay stuck and unwell, personally.”
Others acknowledged a lot of residents, no matter their views on homelessness, aren’t happy with the way the city has been handling the crisis. The city needs to “build up credibility” in dealing with homelessness, Councilor Claire Syrett said.
Many councilors support — or at least aren’t against — spending more money but said they want to make sure the efforts are valuable and don’t fix problems that other units of government, like the state or county, should be tackling.
“I’m not opposed to raising more money, but I want to make sure we know what we’re spending it on,” Councilor Randy Groves said.
Mayor Lucy Vinis said she understands the concerns about accountability and “what we are getting for the price” but pointed out the crisis is only getting worse.
“We’re recognizing that we’re putting more into this than ever before. We’re looking to the county to put more into this than ever before,” Vinis said. “We have a dire situation.”
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There are many options for raising funds: bonds, levies, and tax increases
If officials choose to raise more money to address climate change and homelessness, they have several options, according to Miller’s presentation.
She suggested that they could finance capital costs by issuing a bond. This could require voter approval depending on which type of bond. Temporarily increasing property taxes to repay certain type of bond wouldn’t contribute to the tax rate limit of $10 per $1,000 real market value.
If the city requested a levy for operating costs, this limit would apply.
Miller said that the tax rate is $9.45 for every $1,000 of assessed value. This includes both county and city levies. That leaves the city the ability to raise around $9.6 million without going above the limit, she said, assuming there aren’t other new levies or increases to existing levies.
There are many other options available that could be used in lieu of or in addition for a bond, she explained.
Clark doesn’t think bonds and levies would help the city get to the right place because they “just increase the cost of housing.”
And Councilor Matt Keating pointed out while levies for “beloved institutions” like libraries go over well with voters, other things don’t.
“I haven’t seen polling to suggest that voters are ready to get behind, as great as the ideas and concepts are, funding unhoused solutions as well as an abatement to climate change at the same time through their property taxes,” Keating said.
Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at [email protected]. Follow her Twitter @MeganBanta_1.