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Cedar Mill News
Volume 4, Issue 8


August 2006

Gain or drain? – county taxes and the unincorporated areas

by Virginia Bruce

In 1984, Washington County commissioned a study to determine where tax revenues were being distributed compared to where they were collected. At that time, it was shown that residents of incorporated areas of the county (cities) were paying more than they were receiving in services, residents of rural areas received considerably more than they paid, and urban unincorporated areas, like Cedar Mill, paid in a little more than they received.

Results from the 1984 study set the stage for 20 years of policy direction for the county, including adoption in 1986 of the county’s strategic plan (“County 2000”) and the creation of special service districts, such as the Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District (ESPD) and the Urban Road Maintenance District (URMD) which we all pay for with our county taxes.

In 2005 the county began to update the study to find out if these and other measures were having the desired effect of balancing revenue and expenditure. Preliminary results show that the county has decreased net transfers across major geographic areas over the last 20 years. In March, County Auditor Alan Percell presented early findings to a group of mayors and county commissioners.

The updated study was conducted by the consulting firm Public Knowledge, LLC, under contract with the County Auditor’s Office. They compared expenditures with revenue sources among three geographic areas: cities, urban unincorporated neighborhoods and rural areas. “Based on these preliminary findings, the Washington County of today has reduced net transfers out of cities to almost zero,” said Percell. “Transfers exist, but they have shrunk significantly when compared to the situation in 1984 and need to be viewed in their policy context, including state and federal mandates.”

The final study was due to be released last spring, but there have been delays in reviewing the material, says Percell. “We have to go through the entire report that we received from the consultants to check the figures.” However, says Percell, “Our conclusions aren’t changing much from the March report. The final report will just have more detail.”

In overall terms, the current study shows city residents receiving roughly the same level of service as their revenue contributions support, the largest percentage change of the three geographic areas in the study’s overall findings since the early 1980s. Urban unincorporated residents are receiving 6 percent less than they support, roughly the same differential as measured in the 1984 study. Finally, the current study shows rural residents receiving a transfer in of about 6 percent, a differential that was reduced by more than half when compared with the 1984 findings.

Cities such as Tigard and Beaverton have been claiming that they subsidize residents of urban unincorporated areas. But the cities don’t appear to be ready to conduct their own assessments. “One of the local cities asked us to include them in our study,” Percell mentions. “We said we’d be glad to provide them with our methodology, but we couldn’t do a study for them. So we just don’t have that side of the equation.” The county’s study does indicate that unincorporated residents are using city library facilities, but there is no clear indication of anything beyond that. In fact, the Washington County Sheriff found that claims of excessive Beaverton Police expenditures in unincorporated areas were not true. Perhaps the cities don’t want to spend money to prove themselves wrong.

More information about the study can be found at the County Auditor’s Web site at:



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Published monthly by Cedar Mill Advertising & Design
Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
12110 NW West Rd
Portland, OR 97229