Bend council delays decision on placing $190M transportation bond on November ballot

By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

Bend City Councilors on Wednesday set aside a decision on whether to put a $190 million transportation bond on the November ballot.

After a brief discussion during a virtual work session, a majority of councilors supported moving forward with the measure, but even then, there wasn’t total agreement on exactly how to press on.

Councilors Bruce Abernethy, Barb Campbell, Chris Piper, Gena Goodman-Campbell and Mayor Sally Russell said “yes” to placing the issue on the ballot in November.

“We’ve got to be able to plan,” Russell said, adding that the bond could provide an economic stimulus for the area once planning and engineering started on the projects.

She said the council needed to discuss “what our community gains and what our community doesn’t gain by stalling out this decision.”

Councilors Bill Moseley and Justin Livingston were opposed.

Moseley said he did not think now was the right time.

“I worry the bond costs ultimately will be passed on to landowners and ultimately to renters and the very people hit by this COVID crisis and are now unemployed,” Moseley said.

Livingston said he was “100 percent” supportive of the need for the bond projects, but “I just don’t know if it’s the right time.”

“You have a convergence of potentially really bad economic issues,” he said, referring to the drying up of extra stimulus dollars and property owners needing to figure out what to do with their mortgages. “I don’t think anything’s actually lost by waiting.”

The group discussed tying some economic indicators to the bond including the possibility of delaying the issuance of the bond if unemployment rates didn’t reach certain levels.

Goodman-Campbell said she supported moving forward in November but wanted to be sensitive to what people are going through.

Both she and Campbell wanted to discuss looking at some economic indicators and including language in the bond that would delay issuance if certain thresholds weren’t met.

“It is challenging when we’re not really confident with what’s going to happen with this pandemic next,” Russell said.

At $190 million, it would be the largest bond measure ever requested by the city and it would fund dozens of large projects.

Among the key projects slated for the bond are $36.5 million for work on Reed Market Road, including a railroad overpass;  $10 million to build a northbound on-ramp and southbound off-ramp on Highway 97 at Murphy Road; $5 million to build a roundabout or improve the traffic light at 3rd and Wilson and $1.4 million to widen Empire Avenue to five lanes near the Highway 97 interchange and add a traffic light at the southbound ramp.

New roundabouts or traffic signals also are in store for several busy east-west intersections including 4th and Revere, Olney and 4th, Ferguson Road and 15th, Wilson and 15th and O.B. Riley Road and Empire Avenue.

The money would also be used to improve sidewalk/bike path infrastructure in neighborhoods and along busy city streets to make it safer to walk and bike across town.

The estimated cost to property owners would be about 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

According to the city, a home with a real market value of $415,000 and an assessed value of $220,000 (Bend’s citywide average) would pay about $170 per year.

The payments would be much smaller during the first few years of the bond issuance, increasing from $8 to $30 to $119 over the next five years.

The council approved the ballot measure back in February and planned to put it before voters in May.

But a month later, when the COVID pandemic took hold on the nation, the council pulled it from consideration.

At the time, Russell said COVID-19’s impact on the local economy and the uncertainty of what was ahead made removing the measure from the ballot the right thing to do.

In late May, Bend City Manager Eric King brought up the possibility of adding the bond to the November ballot, saying the projects were still necessary.

The council will discuss the issue at its August 5th work session.

If they do plan to place it on the November ballot, they’d need to make a decision by August 19th.

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