An apparent typographical error could spell trouble for a Columbia County measure asking voters to renew funding for the Columbia County 911 emergency dispatch center.
Measure 5-273 asks voters to approve a levy of 0.29 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to help operate the Columbia County 9-1-1 call center. But the calculations used in the measure to estimate how much the levy would raise seem to suggest the amount was intended to be 29 cents, not 0.29 cents, per $1,000.
Specifically, the measure asks: “Shall the five-year Columbia 9-1-1 operating levy be renewed, at .29 cents per $1,000 assessed value, beginning 2019/2020? This measure renews current local option taxes.”
If the numeral is applied literally, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay only 29 cents more in property tax annually under the measure, not $29 as apparently intended. Instead of raising about $4.2 million, the measure would only raise 1 percent as much, or about $42,000. (These numbers do not count taxes collected under a permanent 911 levy that is not on the ballot.)
The error apparently went undetected until a TDN reporter discovered it Friday afternoon. Ballots must be turned in by Tuesday.
Columbia County Elections Clerk Don Clack confirmed that ballots sent to voters used the 0.29 cents figure. He concurred that the amount likely was intended to be 29 cents. The 911 communications district could not be reached Friday to confirm this.
As to whether voters could challenge the amount assessed on their property if the levy goes into effect with its current wording: “That would be for the lawyers to decide,” Clack said Friday.
Columbia County Assessor Sue Martin said she has never come across this issue before and would have to seek assistance from the Department of Revenue to determine how the levy would actually be collected. It’s possible that there would be time to put the measure on a new ballot for another special election, she said.
“This is the first it’s been brought to my attention,” Martin said Friday.
The levy was approved by voters in 1998 and has been renewed in 2004, 2009 and 2013.
The levy is not the only head-scratcher on the ballot.
A candidate for the Port of Columbia County commissioners was deemed ineligible for the position, the Columbia County Spotlight reported in April, although she was still on the ballot past the deadline for changes. Amie Jo Kopecky, a Clatskanie resident running for Commissioner position 2, was notified in April that she does not live within the port district, which is a requirement for port commissioners, the Spotlight reported.
Columbia County voters have until 8 p.m. on Tuesday to return ballots in the May 21 special election, which includes another measure and races for several director positions.
Unlike Washington state, ballots must be in the hands of the county clerk by that time, not just postmarked by the election date. This means ballots still not returned should be brought to a drop site or the county elections office, as it may be too late for them to arrive by mail.
Voters will decide the following contested races: Portland Community College Zone 2 Director; Rainier School District Zone 6 Director; Scappoose School District Zones 1, 6 and 7 Directors; Mist-Birkenfeld Rural Fire Protection District Position 1 Director; Port of Columbia County Commissioner Positions 1 and 2; and Columbia 911 Communications Zone 1 Director.
Many other positions are up for re-election but are uncontested.
Voters will also vote on Measure 5-274, which asks voters to approve a tax of seven cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to fund five years of operations at the Rainier Cemetery District.
Drop sites for ballots can be found at the following locations:
- Columbia County CH Elections Department: 230 Strand, St Helens (24 hour drop box in the lower parking lot)
- Clatskanie Library: 11 Lillich St.
- Mist-Birkenfeld RFPD: 12525 Hwy 202
- Rainier City Hall: 106 B St. West
- Vernonia Public Library: 701 Weed Ave.
- Scappoose City Hall 24-Hour Drop Box: 33568 E. Columbia Ave.