This week, property owners in Deschutes County and elsewhere in the state are receiving that oft-dreaded document: the property tax bill that shows, for most in this booming community, how much more they'll be paying this year. Due to Oregon Measure 50, passed in the 1990s, property taxes can't go up more than 3% from either the maximum assessed value or real market value, whichever is lower. For the most part, that ensures that while we see the prices of homes skyrocket in our area, the amount we are paying each year doesn't skyrocket, too.
And as we've seen in many aspects of local life, those tax dollars are sorely needed to cover not just basic services like the county health department or the district attorney's office—but also for growing concerns like homelessness and child care. The needs of our region continue to grow along with the population.
- Ella Taft
But it wasn't long ago, in 2018, that Deschutes County commissioners opted to lower property taxes for county taxpayers. The commission at the time seemed committed to placating the base of voters keen on hearing "we lowered your taxes." And yet, these issues loomed.
Were it not for the roughly $38 million that flowed in this year from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, these issues of homelessness and child care would be grossly exaggerated. With the ARPA money, Deschutes County announced this past week that it would help to set up a child care center on the St. Charles Medical Center campus, offering child care and afterschool programming for up to 200 kids. The funds will also add 50 spaces at the MountainStar Relief Nursery in La Pine and Redmond, 100 spaces to a NeighborImpact child care fund and another 80 spaces to the ReVillage Community Co-op child care centers in Sisters, Bend and Redmond, among other efforts.
ARPA money also allowed the county earlier this year to help convert a motel in Redmond to a year-round shelter in partnership with Bethlehem Inn. It brought $750,000 for the construction of a managed camp in Bend. It also allocated $100,000 to the Veteran's Village tiny house village, and another $2 million toward the Cleveland Commons permanent supportive housing project, which will provide 36 units of housing for people transitioning out of homelessness. ARPA funds also allowed the county to bring half a million dollars toward the Giving Plate's new facility.
In sum, ARPA funds stand to transform this community and to address some of our growing region's most pressing needs. And yet, even with that infusion of cash, we know it won't be enough. ARPA is a stopgap that will kickstart some programs, but when that money dries up, what then?
If locals truly want to stop seeing homeless camps pop up, we need to wrap our heads around the fact that someone will need to pay for it. Seeing our county commission so recently try to cut what is already a relatively low property tax rate was the wrong move back then, and it will be the wrong move if it's done again in the future. Our federal taxes paid for ARPA, and our local taxes will be what pays for the ongoing needs mentioned above.