In Oregon, when it comes to government trying to pay for necessary public services, it seems no good deed goes unpunished, in the words of Claire Booth Luce. So it is with the $20 surcharge Phoenix leaders responsibly enacted to keep that city's fire, police and public works departments functioning.
Faced with a budget deficit approaching $700,000, the Phoenix City Council initially proposed a surcharge on city water bills that would gradually increase to nearly $70 a month in three years. After a public outcry and two months of meetings, the council wisely opted to enact a surcharge of just $20 a month, promising to ask city residents to vote on any future increases.
That wasn't good enough for opponents of the surcharge, one of whom promptly began gathering signatures to force a referendum on the council's decision.
On Sept. 18, Phoenix residents will vote on Measure 15-78, which asks voters if they want to repeal the surcharge ordinance. The Mail Tribune Editorial Board recommends a no vote, for several reasons:
- Under state law, cities cannot operate at a deficit and must provide at least five city services. There is a very real possibility that Phoenix could stop being a city if services go unfunded for too long.
- The surcharge would raise enough to pay for just half the cost of needed police and fire protection, and would be in effect for only a year. The city would ask voters in November 2008 to renew an operating levy for public safety.
- Regardless of how the city reached this desperate situation, the fact remains that services cannot be provided without the money to pay for them. The council deserves credit for listening to residents and scaling back the surcharge to the lowest amount possible.
- The city is taking steps to annex city properties into Fire District 5, which would provide fire protection to Phoenix residents at substantially lower cost. Residents will likely vote on the annexation next spring. Another responsible move by the city to provide needed services as efficiently as possible.
Phoenix residents have to ask themselves if they want to continue to be a city. If the answer is yes, then city services must be paid for.
We recommend a no vote on Measure 15-78.