For more than a quarter century, Portland-area voters have repeatedly said that they treasure the region's natural areas and are willing to pay to protect and maintain them.
This support has come in two forms.
Bond measures (passed in 1995, 2006 and 2019) allowed the regional government to acquire thousands of acres of natural areas in urban, suburban and rural areas, from East Multnomah County to western Washington County, including some large tracts outside the Urban Growth Boundary.
Meanwhile, serial levies pay for the ongoing costs of creating and keeping up the 18,000 acres of natural area and adding trails, bathrooms, picnic areas and other amenities, with an eye toward accessibility.
This year, voters within Metro's boundaries are being asked to renew the "maintenance" levy. With a significant caveat, we urge a "yes" vote.
Our concern with this measure is Metro's failure to seriously consider other funding options.
Previous levies have won broad public support, and no reports indicate that Metro hasn't been a good steward of the funds.
Measure 26-225, if passed, would raise nearly $20 million annually by maintaining the current levy's rate of 9.6 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, which pencils out to about $2 per month for the owner of a $250,000 home.
We feel like that's a good investment, particularly given Metro's commitment to making these spaces accessible to people of all abilities and their expansion of educational programs. For those unable (or uninterested) in climbing Mt. Hood, or even Dog Mountain, a trip to a regional park or wildlife preserve may be their best connection to nature and the benefits that come with it.
When we endorsed the renewal of this levy in 2016, we wrote that the agency "needs a better long-range plan to pay for everyday maintenance of its vast park and open space holdings."
We haven't seen evidence of much progress, though. To be fair, Metro, which relies on funds from events and facilities, was hit hard by the pandemic and the resulting ban on mass gatherings. So, we're willing to go along with another levy with a reminder that we'd like to see a serious conversation about other funding options.
Those options should include more support from local governments. Metro's entry into the parks business came when Multnomah County unloaded its regional parks on the agency in the 1990s. A lot has changed since then, and we'd like to see local governments support Metro's work.
And, while we agree that the agency, which now runs a zoo, performing arts center and an ambitious housing initiative, is guilty of "mission creep," Metro has, for 27 years, shown that it can preserve and enhance open spaces that improve the quality of life for the entire region.
Measure 26-225 continues that tradition and deserves voter support.