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City fees are taxes levied without asking residents

Around 25 years ago, the city of Medford held a hearing on a new fee (tax) to be paid by the citizens and business within the city. This was proposed after an increase in city taxes was turned down by the voters.

At that hearing, I testified to express my concerns that this could be the start of a way to fund the city without voter representation directly on taxes. The tax was to pay for much-needed repairs and expansion to our existing storm drain systems.

That seemed reasonable; the costs were equitably distributed, fairly low and even though commercial properties would pay higher rates due to parking lots and size of structures, I could not find fault in the proposed tax and the need was there. After assurances that this tax would only be for the proposed use, no other city fees would be added and the fee would not increase over time, I accepted this tax on behalf of the people I represent.

What a fool I was! The city got around that promise because the City Council was not bound by prior members’ promises. Fast forward to now and you have city taxes levied against us for police, fire, public works and parks, in addition to the storm drain tax. That is almost every department of the city.

The attitude of the City Council had been and may still be that since we cannot get the citizens of Medford to agree that we need help with funding needs, we can go around them and vote more and more taxes on our population with little notice to Medford citizen, other than a line item in a city notice in the newspaper.

Many thanks to the Mail Tribune for at least an article that our taxes are going up without a vote of the people, once again.

I will note that even that article had errors, such as saying the fee increases were for utilities. Of the taxes raised, 67.3% will be for public safety and streets. Since when are these called utilities?

However, due to how the system of taxes via fees to the citizens of Medford came into place, the taxes are billed based upon water meters. This was fine for storm drains, but how does that work for parks, streets, fire and police services?

I take exception to the statement that the residents are subsiding the commercial properties. We can see that commercial properties pay more per square foot, as they should for storm drains and streets. They have more non-permeable land, hence more runoff to be collected in our storm drains, and more traffic.

In total, for an office the cost is about 61 cents per foot annually as opposed to 23 cents for residential, or to put it this way, commercial pays almost three times as much per foot.

However, does commercial have more fires, more police calls in a year compared to residential? Does commercial use more of our parks?

The problem here is that the bills are sent out to each water meter, not each business in commercial properties. So the owner of the building may be responsible for all these increases. It may take years to pass these costs along to businesses, depending on the lease terms.

I can wrap this up by saying our small company paid $83,000 in additional Medford taxes in the form a city fees in 2021, up from nothing a few years ago. And there are many ways the city can poke holes in my statements by rationalizing and generalizations. But the city will not give us the whole cost without investigation ahead of time. Put it through before the public figures it out.

So how much can the city tax us without our direct vote? Answer: As much as they want! The majority of citizens will not even know until after it is done. Remember this when voting for our city elected officials next time. That is the only vote we get these days on our taxes.

I long for the time when we voted directly on our taxes and the city explained it ahead of time to convince us that it was needed and worthwhile. Now they don’t have to.

Scott Henselman lives in Medford.