The Metro Council decided to ask voters to consider renewing the current parks and natural areas local-option levy that pays for restoration and maintenance, park operations and opportunities for people to access parks and natural areas.
The council voted unanimously in favor of moving the levy measure to the ballot during its August 4 work session. Testifying in favor of the measure were Gresham City Councilor Vince Jones-Dixon; Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax; Portland Audubon director of conservation Bob Sallinger; Paulyna Santos, storytelling and communications coordinator at Experience Life Science Outdoors (ELSO); Urban Greenspaces Institute partnerships and planning manager Theresa Huang; Intertwine co-director Tara Wilkinson; and Ashton Simpson, executive director of Oregon Walks and a Metro Councilor-elect.
"We're here today on behalf of our coalition of 80 partners to share support for the council's action today to refer the levy renewal, and we're excited about that," said Wilkinson. "We know the levy is essential to continuing everything our region has accomplished when it comes to parks and nature – to improving water quality, to restoring fish and wildlife habitat, and to providing opportunities to connect with nature close to home."
A yes vote in the Nov. 8 election would extend the end date of levy funding from June 2023 to June 2028.
Renewing the levy would not raise taxes because it would continue the existing rate. The levy costs 9.6 cents per $1,000 in assessed home value – about $25 a year for the owner of a home with $250,000 in assessed value.
“One of Metro's roles is to look into the future and plan for what our region needs, not just now but also in 20, 30, or 50 years,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “As we think and plan for the future, we know that we need parks and nature close to home to support the livability of our region.”
The levy, if renewed, is projected to raise about $19.5 million per year.
About 40% of the money would go toward restoring and maintaining natural areas to improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat. About a third would go toward the operations of both regional parks and historic cemeteries. The rest would go toward community-led investments and operations, including culturally specific nature education programs and community grants that advance climate resilience and racial equity.
Councilor Duncan Hwang noted that parks and nature play a vital role in lessening the effects of climate change. "Investments in climate resilience anywhere in the region benefit us everywhere," he said. "We know that hot summers and extreme weather are here to stay. We've experienced that heat just this past week. I appreciate how the proposed levy framework allows Metro to continue building climate resilience through regional conservation projects and also brings opportunities to regreen urban spaces to everyone in the region."
Levy money would also be aimed at diversifying the contractors Metro hires as well as engaging with diverse communities to help envision how new park amenities and improvements are made.
Metro owns more than 18,000 acres of parks, trails and natural areas. Much of the land was acquired with money from natural areas bond measures voters approved in 1995, in 2006, and again in 2019. The levy funding complements that bond funding by allowing Metro to restore and maintain those properties and to staff parks.
In 2016, voters in greater Portland approved a five-year, local-option levy to protect clean water, restore wildlife habitat, and provide opportunities for people to access natural areas and rivers. That funding is set to run out in June 2023.
"This parks and nature levy brings the spirit to the work," said Councilor Juan Carlos González. "The bond, it pays for things; it pays for buildings, it pays for trails, it pays for signage. The levy is what brings people, brings programs, brings spark, brings education, and it's great value for what taxpayers pay into it and what we get out of it throughout the entire region."