Urban Needs—Rural Government
What do cities have that we don't?
by Bruce Bartlett & Virginia Bruce, with help from Marc SanSoucie & Mary Manseau
In the previous articles in our series on the governance of Cedar Mill, we reviewed the physical services that are provided by special service districts, Washington County and private companies. Our region-wide service providers are generally well-run organizations with efficient economies of scale, but their existence has redefined some of the obvious and traditional values of distinct city services.
In this installment, we will begin a look at those services provided by cities that aren’t available to residents of the Urban Unincorporated Areas (UUAs). This month we’ll look at representation, participation in government, and urban infrastructure. Next month we’ll discuss community spirit and identity and economic development.
In Oregon, the division of city versus county services has developed over the last 25 years and many aspects of this division are established in state law and county policy. One prime example is the state-sharing of franchise fees paid by utilities that use the public Right-of-Ways (ROWs) such as telecommunications providers. By state law only cities receive a share of the franchise fees, since counties were not anticipated to have large urban populations. These fees are levied based on the length of the ROW and utility companies are not willing to pay for long stretches of farmland where there are few customers among whom to spread the expense.
There are profound differences between the responsibilities of cities and counties. Counties traditionally provide services for the entire population, both rural and urban. Services include public safety, courts , public health clinics, veterans and elderly support, animal control, county fairs, civil emergency response, construction and maintenance of major roadways, and other services that are not geographically tied to a specific part of the county.
There are two basic types of cities: full-service and partial-service. Hillsboro is an example of full-service, providing police, fire and rescue, water and sewer, community development, business development, parks and recreation, community spirit activities, mediation, public participation programs, community centers, detailed land use planning, review and appeals, more stringent code enforcement and promotion of the arts.
Beaverton, a partial-service city, contracts out a portion of these services. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R) serves a large portion of eastern Washington County including Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, Wilsonville and much of the UUA. The Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District (THPRD) provides park services, and the Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) provides water for portions of Beaverton and much of the UUA. Beaverton provides its own urban land use planning, community and business development, code enforcement, public participation programs and arts promotion.
Elected representation ratio
The ratio of elected representation for an urban area helps determine the level of interaction citizens can expect. Washington County has been receiving 20% of Oregon’s total population growth over the last decade and now there are over 520,000 residents in the county. About 300,000 live in cities, 200,000 live in the UUA and 20,000 live in rural areas. The County’s governing body, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, has a chairman elected county-wide and four councilors elected to represent specific districts. County Commissioner Desari Strader’s District 2 has over 100,000 residents in Cedar Mill, Cedar Hills, Bethany, and Oak Hills and neighboring areas, including Beaverton..
With over 88,000 people, Hills-boro has one mayor and six city councilors to represent the residents’ interests—elected at large——one councilor for every 15,000 people. With over 84,000 people, Beaverton has one mayor and five city councilors—elected at large—one councilor for every 17,000 people.
Public participation in government
Most cities provide a robust public participation program to encourage residents to have a voice and a stake in the workings of their city. Beaverton’s Neighborhood Program fosters active public involvement, primarily through their eleven Neighborhood Association Committees (NACs), approximately one for every 8,000 residents. The NACs are funded by the city and coordinated through the Beaverton Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI) which sponsors an annual Neighborhood Summit and other events. Beaverton provides a Neighborhood Program Matching Grant Fund to support neighborhood projects.
Citizen Participation Organization 1 (CPO 1) represents over 20,000 residents of Cedar Mill and Cedar Hills with three volunteer leaders and a handful of other volunteers to interface with the county government. This presents a huge challenge for these leaders in an effort to support the concerns of individuals spread over a large area.
Many neighborhoods in Cedar Mill lack sidewalks, let alone bike paths. Although Washington County requires sidewalks for property being newly developed, and builds sidewalks and bike paths as part of capital roadway projects, the county does not concern itself with creating sidewalks in existing neighborhoods. Traffic signals and crosswalks are desired by residents in several places but by county standards they’re not “warranted.”
Cities are much more inclined to upgrade existing urban infrastructure by creating inter-connected sidewalk systems and adding traffic signals and pedestrian crossings as part of community-building. City road and development projects routinely place utilities underground while the county does not.
Determining how or whether the residents of the UUA will obtain any of these additional services is part of the mission of the Urbanization Forum effort being led by County Chair Tom Brian. A series of events and activities over the next couple of years, with participation of others in the county and its city governments and the region’s service providers, will attempt to address the many questions that our rapid growth raises, such as “Where shall we grow?” “How shall we grow?” “What are the governance options and how are they achieved?” “Who shall provide the necessary services?” and “Who shall pay for the capital costs and operational costs?”