Oregon Town Links Business Tax with Special Crime Unit

June 22, 2007
Businesses would pay increased tax, and city would develop special patrol for business districts

TIGARD -- Tigard Police Chief Bill Dickinson wanted to find another way to stop the string of robberies hitting strip malls on Oregon 99W and Washington Square Mall when patrolling officers left to chase 9-1-1 calls all over the city.

Dickinson came up with a unique solution: create a crime unit that would patrol only the business districts, and fund it by increasing the business tax. That way, businesses seeing more police presence would be the ones paying for it.

More than half of Tigard's 2,098 major crimes in 2006 occurred in the city's commercial and industrial areas, Dickinson said.

On Tuesday, the Tigard City Council agreed to move forward to increase the business tax to pay for the $350,000 crime unit, which would have two officers and a supervisor. They will vote on the proposal in August.

Tigard's solution --a targeted tax --is a unique way to deal with crime-busting, said Andy Shaw, government relations associate for the League of Oregon Cities. Business taxes typically go toward a general fund that pay for programs and hiring new employees.

"Not many cities have business license taxes that are then targeted toward one specific program," Shaw said.

Downtown Portland property owners pay a fee that goes toward hiring security officers as part of the Clean & Safe program of the Portland Business Alliance, but this program is separate from the city's business license tax.

In addition to patrolling Oregon 99W, Washington Square mall and the big-box stores in an area called Tigard Triangle, Tigard's commercial crimes unit will also work with individual businesses on crime prevention, Dickinson said.

"This is a fee for a service," said Mayor Craig Dirksen.

The proposed business tax increase is based on size. Larger businesses with more than 51 employees would see an increase from $220 to $725. Businesses with 11 to 50 employees would see an increase from $110 to $525.

Council members wanted to minimize the impact to businesses with fewer than 10 employees that currently pay $55. That will increase to between $75 and $325 a year.

Most business owners Dickenson talked to said the tax was a "no-brainer." The Tigard Chamber of Commerce and managers from Washington Square Mall supported the tax, he said.

Kathleen Briceno, owner of Basic Apparel Works on Oregon 99W, said the extra $20 she will pay would be difficult for new businesses such as hers. But it is "probably worth it if it helps bring crime down." Briceno said she was one of the victims in a string of armed robberies along the highway in December.

Steve Roos, general manager of Russ Chevrolet of Tigard on Oregon 99W, said the extra $505 that his 57-employee company would pay would not make a big impact.

"I don't think any business owner is interested in paying more for taxes," Roos said, "but if there was a problem and there's a need to solve the problem, I think it's a good thing."