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Was LO on the road to Detroit?

“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else”

— Will Rogers

Our council recently passed a bond authorization in excess of $100 million. What? That’s right, it’s more than double the historical debt of our city. Think about that for a moment. In a single action, the council approved double the historical debt of our city. The sad reality is voters had no real input. Berg

Prior administrations approved a poor agreement that will eventually force $100-plus million in additional debt onto all residents. The LO-Tigard Water Partnership (LOTWP) now makes the $20 million in debt for the WEB debacle look small. Maybe we should be thankful?

The current council had limited options as the city is bound by a contract. However, their choice was in how they would issue those bonds and frankly that discussion was a circus show. Staff and consultants discounted their work, contradicted themselves and confused the council. The core issue never really discussed was “how do we reduce the water rates on our residents” by choosing the right terms for the bond issuance.

Voters in several elections have become aware that something was amiss with our ever increasing debt. At the same time both the Hammerstad and Hoffman administrations were forcing projects like LOTWP, streetcar and Foothills on our residents. These together would have added to our debt burden with many claiming an increase in our debt to well more than $400 million.

Is there any wonder why several former city councilors are now moving out of Lake Oswego? Residents often wonder if we are going the way of unique cities where grand schemes (think “vision”), financed by debt, destroyed community character. Detroit reigns supreme as the prime example of the “Tax and Spend” political philosophy, one which so dominated Lake Oswego for more than 10 years.

So were we on the road to Detroit? Many believe we were, despite our strong desire to preserve “community character.” The fact is we are often too busy to watch the “fox in the chicken coop” and we now incur serious bills for the mistakes of our elected officials. Realizing this problem may be the only solution to truly ensure Lake Oswego continues to take the “off ramp” before we actually reach Detroit. No doubt our water bills are now sending us this message. The traffic light is certainly “flashing yellow.”

Lake Oswego has issues that need to be addressed to preserve our community character. We have a staff level where cost increases exceed the revenue from our allowable increase in property taxes. Our streets require $3 to $5 million a year and we only spend $1 million a year. We continue subsidizing optional programs with millions, but cannot afford to maintain our core services?

That’s precisely the momentum which could carry us down the road to Detroit. It’s a difficult situation, where there are options, but only if our council exercises leadership.

As responsible citizens we need to ensure this council and city manager seriously address these issues. If they don’t, it won’t be long before our community character changes dramatically. We will then wonder if another iconic community has been lost, as more councilors leave town.

Let’s all continue engaging this council to make the right decisions for our community.

Dave Berg is a 22-year resident of Lake Oswego, a board member of COLA LO and chairman of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee.



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