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Citizen's View: In the competition for limited funds, voters must help determine priorities

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“If you can provide the funding and you get the leadership, you’ll have a competitive team”

— T. Boone Pickens

We live in a very fortunate community where many areas are well-funded, producing an exceptional quality of life and excellent schools. This occurs because citizens are willing to be taxed and pay fees at rates well above many communities. It’s unique to the culture of Lake Oswego and a shared value I have written about for nearly a decade. Yet residents may not realize there is still an intense competition for funds within our community.

I have spent the better part of a decade on the Citizens Budget Committee, and each year our core services have to compete for funding. It requires leadership to establish consistent priorities that ensure we maintain the level of services citizens expect. At the same time, we don’t have the resources to do all the capital projects required over the next 20 years. So each year, the budget committee prioritizes these funds over a one- to three-year timeline.

Capital project decisions are exhibited in our Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). It’s a working plan with many more unfunded than funded projects over the next few years. The CIP is also a solid example of how projects compete for funds in the budget committee.

The current administration has made it clear they do not want to ask voters for General Obligation (GO) bonds to fund capital projects. In large part, this is a reaction to 12 years of “tax-and-spend” governance that followed an “everything is a priority” agenda. That direction produced an enormous debt load, and your budget committee responded with the $250 million debt-limit policy established last year.

This current administration believes it’s not a wise time to ask voters for more taxes. I have to say I don’t disagree, but I also believe voter input is vital to our future funding decisions.

While our City Council has decided not to ask voters for GO bonds for its infrastructure investments, it’s now rumored that the Lake Oswego School District will be asking for a GO bond that many believe will exceed $100 million. This would be used for school repairs due to deferred maintenance, and it’s a prime example of the current competition for funds.

The city has needs and so do our schools! What is the priority of our citizens and where would we put our limited taxpayer funds? I believe voters should have input not only through the budget committee, but also by voting on key bond measures involving capital investments.

Your budget committee (which includes our council) has done a marvelous job over the past three years in proving that it can make wise decisions consistent with the attitudes and the needs of our community. We are observing very real, tangible and visible change through sound fiscal management, but voters should decide where to put their limited resources when government asks for more. This requires that each of us evaluate all competing alternatives.

We are very fortunate to live in an exceptional community, but preserving it requires the focus and discipline to make the right decisions, including resolving our competition for funds. That requires informed and decisive leadership.

Dave Berg is a 24-year resident of Lake Oswego, former chair and now vice chair of the Citizens Budget Committee, and a board member of COLA LO.