Farmers push ballot measure
Special taxing district to raise funds for research, 4-H
By SEAN ELLIS
ONTARIO, Ore. -- Farmers in Malheur County admit they have no idea how residents will vote May 15 when they decide whether to approve a ballot measure that would raise $365,000 for Oregon State University's experiment station and extension services.
"We're very concerned. Any time you (ask people for more money) I don't think you can be confident about it passing," said Ontario Produce Manager Bob Komoto, chairman of the Malheur Ag and Extension Coalition, which collected the 1,800 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot.
If approved by a simple majority, measure 23-49 will create a special taxing district that would increase the local property tax rate by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That would work out to $23 for a home valued at $100,000 or $230 for a farm or ranch or other property valued at $1 million.
The money would be used to help address a major budget shortfall at OSU's experiment and extension station. Komoto said farmers and ranchers in the county have been told the research station could be closed if local funding support is not secured.
"Agriculture will be severely impacted if we don't get this done," he said. "Without research, your production practices become outmoded and you won't be on the cutting edge."
MAEC members have conducted a major education campaign to inform voters of how important the OSU experiment station, extension and 4-H services are to the county.
That includes signs, postcards, radio and newspaper advertising and discussing the issue directly with chambers of commerce and other key groups.
"There are a slew of things an extension agent does for agriculture in the county," said Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, which has spearheaded the effort.
With agriculture accounting for 30 percent of sales and jobs in the area, "this is extremely critical for the county," Skeen said. "There aren't any of us that like taxes (but) it's important we pass this. If we lose, I don't know what we're going to do."
One of the main points the group is making is that the county's jail bond, which is 35.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, retires after this year. If the ballot measure is approved, the property tax rate would still decline by 12.7 cents next year, Komoto said.
The point the group is emphasizing heavily is that "you can vote for this and your taxes will actually go down," he said.
If people don't recognize the value of OSU's research station, "I don't know what we can do about that," Komoto said. "But if they do get it but don't like the idea of it costing them 23 cents more per $1,000 of assessed value, they can do the right thing, vote for this and they will still pay less taxes in 2013."