Would you be surprised to learn that since principle construction of Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) ended in 1974, voters have turned down every request for capital improvements at the college?

It’s true.

Mt. Hood Community College President Dr. Debra Derr tells the Memo why passing a capital improvement bond for the college is important to east Portland’s future.

Most recently in May 2016, which forced MHCC officials back to the drawing board after voters turned down a $125 million capital improvement bond by a little over 3,000 votes out of 58,000 cast.

This May, college officials bring back a pared-down $75 million bond measure to the ballot.

The estimated tax rate will be $23 per $100,000 of assessed value, which will cost the average $200,000 homeowner about $50 per year. In general, the bonds will be paid off in 21 years.

The college will set up a citizens’ oversight committee that will have regular meetings and review the expenditures. There will also be annual fiscal and performance audits conducted by an independent audit firm.

Debra Derr, MHCC president, said in an interview that she and college officials did extensive outreach to find out why last year’s attempt failed. “Any addition to a tax bill is a tough addition for families,” Derr said. “We know that, but we believe that they will get a good return on their investment through a workforce that will be able to ‘skill up’ and get people in jobs that are available now that pay a family living wage.”

Constituents told them they think that the college is doing a good job, that the college is being a good steward of taxpayer money, and to keep up the good work. However, Derr also heard, “You’re doing a good job, so why do you need our help?”

In addition, Derr said she heard misunderstandings that the bond request is for operations and not improvements. “I pay taxes for Mt. Hood Community College every year, so why should I pay more?” Derr said she often heard.
What people see on their property tax bills is for college operations.

Annual property tax money the college receives from individuals can be used only for operations.

Eighty percent of MHCC’s annual budget is human resources—salaries for teachers and staff (600 faculty and 900 staff). The remainder pays for everything else it takes to run a college that serves more than 32,000 full- and part-time students.

By law, the college can’t utilize those resources for capital improvements.
Construction of a new Workforce and Applied Technology building on the main Gresham campus is the crown jewel of this bond, according to Derr. “It’s all about workforce development,” Derr said. “Our automotive, manufacturing, welding and new electronics programs would be in there. We’re pretty excited about upgrading and providing new equipment and using new equipment to bring us into the 21st century in those areas.”

Moreover, Derr said she’s having conversations with local high school districts to broaden offerings for current technical education for high school students utilizing the new facility.

“[This is] the heart of what we’re doing, especially when you look at the fact that in east Multnomah County we are serving the poorest House district in the state of Oregon,” Derr said. “Tied to our mission is working with people to have them trained and working and paying taxes and supporting their families and affording houses. That’s what we do. Our mission is transforming lives—building communities. We must be able to reflect what’s happening in business and industry. It’s past time to do that.”

The bond’s passage would also pay for seismic safety and security system upgrades, and it would free up additional operating funds by refinancing capital obligations.

Furthermore, the bond’s passage secures $8 million in state matching funds that would otherwise be lost, which would be used for additional support for the Workforce and Applied Technology Center.

Derr has been MHCC president since July 2013. Previously, she worked at Mt. Hood from 1987 to 2002 in three positions: as coordinator of services for students with disabilities, as an administrator, and as vice-president of student affairs. She moved to the Midwest to become president of North Iowa Community College until returning to lead Mt. Hood.

Maywood Park Campus
Unfortunately for Parkrose, expanding Mt. Hood’s Maywood Park Campus, which was part of the 2016 ask, isn’t in this request. “The thing that we had to take off, which was a very difficult decision, was the Maywood Park Campus,” said Derr. “We’re very committed to the west side of our district. Whether we are at Maywood Park or another site, we will continue to provide service in that area. But, as we had to make decisions—that $8 million that we will receive from the state should we pass the bond for the Applied Technology Center—was the driver for us to say, ‘If we have to take one of those big building projects off the table right now, then it needs to be Maywood instead of the Applied Technology Center,’ because we did not have any resources that we would be leveraging from the state.”

Multi-generational education center in Gateway?
For a while, there has been talk between government and school officials and private property owners about the possibility of a multi-generational education center in Gateway on the old Elks property and adjoining parcels next to the Fred Meyer store. However, so far, it is just talk. “There is still talk about a multi-generational general education center there,” Derr said. “There is still hope, honestly, that there will be a multi-generational education presence on the west side of our district; Mt. Hood would be as interested as we were before.”

MHCC tax base
The Mt. Hood Community College district encompasses an area of about 950 square miles, with a population of more than 300,000. The district boundaries extend as far east as Mt. Hood and to the Wasco County line, south into Clackamas County, including the communities of Boring and Damascus, and west into Portland’s city limits. The northern boundary is the Columbia River from Northeast 33rd Avenue to Cascade Locks. The school districts of Parkrose, David Douglas, Reynolds, Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Corbett, Port of Cascade Locks and Oregon Trail are all within this area.


The Mt. Hood Community College tax base encompasses 950 sq. miles and parts of three counties. It is huge!


We asked Mid-county Memo Facebook followers if they are for or against the bond measure and why.

Here’s a sample of the comments we received:

Kathy Reese: “I know that MHCC (especially the campus at Maywood Park) needs to be upgraded.
That being said, I am sick and tired of being taxed to death for everything. Just because I own property, does not mean that I have an income that supports all of the taxes that everyone seems to want to add. This also affects renters, as landlords have to raise rents when their property taxes go up.”

Marcia Schneider: “I’m in support; the community college gives so many students their first opportunity for college AND prepares our skilled workforce. Totally worth it!”

Julie Goodrich: “Has the college tried for another funding source such as state lotto or a phased approach? How do other CC fund their growth?”

Rob Portland: “In general I’m against ANY new property tax additions; we pay ENOUGH!”

Gloria Preston: “Most of my property taxes go toward education but the schools never seem to have any money. I don’t get it AND I don’t have kids.”

Mary Lu Baetkey: “This would also help Parkrose students, worth a vote YES”

Andrew Cook: “Education is the one thing I am fine with properly taxes going up for.”

Chuck Matthews: “We need to support education. These things aren’t free.”

Mike Morsman: “Like Gloria said, the money doesn’t go to education.”

Monica Cory: “It is overdue.”

Michael Centoni: “And Portland Public had $800 million when is it going to end?”