Voters in greater Portland have once again chosen to invest in nature, passing Measure 26-225, Metro’s five-year local option levy renewal. The approval will continue to fund Metro’s efforts to protect water quality, restore habitat and provide safe and welcoming public access to more than 18,000 acres of parks, natural areas, cemeteries and boat ramps. It also funds community-led efforts to connect people with nature through the Nature in Neighborhoods grants program.
Measure 26-225 was passing with 72% of the vote on Tuesday night, according to most recent counts provided by county elections officials to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
Since voters approved Metro’s parks and nature bond measure in 1995, they have continued supporting each funding measure for nature Metro has sent their way, including three bond and three levy votes. Tuesday's wide margin showed that voters in the region maintain their commitment to parks and nature.
“Despite the challenges facing the region and the country, one thing that always brings people in our region together is nature,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “This result shows that voters know we must support nature as our climate changes.”
The levy renewal will not raise tax rates, remaining at the 9.6 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a home assessed at $250,000, that’s about $24 a year. Metro expects the levy to raise $19.6 million per year, through June 2028.
Metro Councilor-elect Ashton Simpson pointed to the results as proof that parks are playing an increasingly important role in people’s lives.
“Parks were a lifeline for communities during the pandemic,” Simpson said. “Places like Blue Lake and Oxbow allowed friends and families to be together during an incredibly trying time. Even before the pandemic, voters loved these places. I’m not surprised they showed their support again.”
Simpson will represent communities east of 122nd Avenue out to Troutdale and south to parts of Happy Valley and Damascus.
The levy continues Metro’s commitments to create spaces that are safe and welcoming to people of color, members of the disability community, and other people who have often not been well served by parks or been offered equitable opportunities to connect to nature.
The 2019 parks and nature bond and the renewed levy work in tandem. The bond is limited to capital investments, like buying natural areas and building parks. Just last year, Metro opened Newell Creek Canyon Nature Park in Oregon City and Chehalem Ridge Nature Park just south of Forest Grove. The levy, meanwhile, allows Metro to restore the natural areas and run the parks.
“This vote ensures that Metro will be able to maintain its high standards for maintaining and restoring natural areas for another five years,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland. “At a time of such immense challenges, it is great to see how strong the support for protecting and restoring our environment remains, that voters recognize it as an essential part of our communities.”
The parks and nature levy provides nearly three-quarters of Metro’s operating funds for its parks, cemeteries, boat ramps and more than 11,000 acres of natural areas. The levy funds rangers to serve park visitors and maintain facilities, supports scientists and land technicians to restore natural areas, and purchases all the materials needed to manage parks and natural areas, from garbage bags and water fountains to oak saplings and shovels.
At least 40% of the levy will go to habitat restoration and land management. A typical project funded by the levy is the winter planting at natural areas. In 2022, restoration crews planted more than 300,000 trees, shrubs and bulbs and spread thousands of pounds of seeds at 18 natural areas.
At least 35% of the funds will go to regional park operations.
Alongside these maintenance and operations funds, at least 15% of levy funds will go to the popular Nature in Neighborhoods grants program. These grants support community-led efforts to connect people with nature.
The grants are awarded each year, alternating yearly between programs that support nature education opportunities and community stewardship and restoration projects. On Oct. 20, the Metro Council awarded Nature in Neighborhoods grants totaling $700,000 to to 10 community organizations for nature education programs.
The remaining 10% of funds can be spent across the three program areas (restoration, park operations and grants). This lets Metro be more flexible and efficient in the face of unpredictable needs in its parks and nature operations, such as extreme weather events and unanticipated maintenance challenges.