An error made by Salem officials on the ballot title for Salem’s construction bond could mean some projects funded by the bond may be delayed unless the city works quickly to correct the mistake in court.
Salem voters passed the $300 million infrastructure bond in the November election. The measure was set to fund community-wide investments in streets, sidewalks, parks, fire trucks and equipment, two new fire stations to improve response times, affordable housing, the purchasing of sites for affordable housing and branch libraries, cybersecurity for city operations, and Civic Center seismic improvements.
But a sentence required by Oregon law was missing from the ballot title in the Marion County voters’ pamphlet describing the November 2022 Community Improvement Bond.
City officials said Thursday that they discovered the error this week and were beginning to correct the error through the judicial process.
“You trust us to do important work and do it well and clearly we did not do that here,” Salem City Manager Keith Stahley said in a statement. “We understand the gravity of this error, we will learn from this mistake and will adjust our processes and systems to prevent it from occurring in the future.”
Because several previous bond measures will be retired and removed from the tax rolls over the next decade, the $300 million in safety and livability bond projects was set to be funded without increasing tax rates. The first steps toward using the bond funding is now on pause.
“Unfortunately, the City will be unable to issue bonds until this error is addressed,” city attorney Dan Atchison said in a statement.
Atchison said as early as Friday, the city will file a validation action in Marion County Circuit Court asking the court to determine that, despite the omission, the bond measure legally authorized the city to issue the bonds because the measure and explanatory statement gave voters notice of the impact of the passage of the measure would have on property taxes.
The language required by ORS 250.037 that was missing from the city’s filing reads: “If the bonds are approved, they will be payable from taxes on property or property ownership that are not subject to the limits of sections 11 and 11b, Article XI of the Oregon Constitution.”
The missing sentence was included in the public notice of the ballot title that published in August in the Statesman Journal.
This statutorily required notice was the only piece missing from the ballot, city officials said.
The explanatory information on the ballot included information that the measure was not expected to increase Salem’s bond tax rate above the current rate of $1.20/$1,000 of assessed value “thanks to payments for existing bonds decreasing in the future.”
The impact to voters was included in all available materials.
Bond counsel discovered the error as the city was initiating the process of issuing the first bond sales. City spokeswoman Courtney Knox Busch said they do not anticipate a delay in the timing of the first bond sales, which was set to take place as early as February.
Atchison noted that in similar cases, courts have determined that bonds could be issued.
“We deeply regret the error occurred and are working diligently to ensure the matter has no impact on the City’s ability to issue the bonds in response to voters’ overwhelming approval of the measure,” he said.
Mayor Chris Hoy said he believes the city can resolve the issue quickly through the judicial process.
“By taking care of this as quickly as possible, we will avoid any potential delay in issuing the bonds and making the community investments in safety and livability that the voters approved in November,” he said in a statement. “Salem voters have spoken. We intend to honor the commitment we made to our community and to the broad coalition that came together in support of the measure.”
Reporter Whitney Woodworth covers city hall, economic development and business for the Statesman Journal. For questions, comments and news tips, email email@example.com, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth.