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Oswegans deserve no tax increase

Recently, we all received our tax bills. What a surprise that our taxes went up! Why? There are a number of reasons, but let’s just look at Lake Oswego.

What makes our city taxes go up? Usually, an increase in the tax rate would cause taxes to go up, but our tax rates have been fairly constant. What really made our taxes increase was a valuation of our properties that increased nearly 3 percent.

The city does not have to take the 3-percent increase automatically. It is actually optional. Much credit goes to Councilor Jeff Gudman, who last year suggested not taking the 3-percent increase. However, in the end the increase was taken and has shown up in our tax bills.

Why is there a 3-percent increase almost every year? One reason is that our city’s costs just keep climbing. For example, 2015 operating expenses are up 9.2 percent from 2014. In the past 10 years, the operating budget of the city has more than doubled. In part, this is debt service costs. Over the years, significant debt has accumulated between park bonds, street bonds, the sewer and the water project. These have all caused the debt service to increase to $16.7 million in the current year.

Can we not take the tax increase in 2015-16? Yes, it is possible we can hold the line on our tax bills in the next year. But this will require finding new ways to do things that cost less. Our city workers have reached the point where their cost is significant. The average city worker will cost us about $120,000 this year, including salaries and benefits. Benefits now run over 60 percent of salary and include health care, vacations, sick days, holidays and pension.

Our Citizens Budget Committee must take the lead in requiring our city to take actions necessary to hold down the cost of our government. While we citizens do want a fairly high level of service, we do not require that everything be done by city employees. It is quite possible to provide the same high level of service using outside resources. In fact, our city uses outside resources already for a number of areas. Why not for more?

There are cities throughout the United States that provide many of their services from outside resources. One example is Weston, Fla., a high-quality community outside Ft. Lauderdale. They have only nine city employees. Even police and fire services are provided by outside resources.

Lake Oswego does not need to go as far as Weston, but we could learn from the experiences of other cities. There are cities much like Lake Oswego in California, for example — Palos Verdes and Alisa Viejo — which utilize outside services for much of their city’s work. We here in Lake Oswego should learn from their experiences to benefit our citizens’ tax bills.

Fees and charges have been escalating rapidly, as shown by the increases in our monthly utility bills. To compensate for these increases, there should be no tax increase in 2016. Our taxpaying citizens deserve no tax increase this coming year. Contact your elected leaders to ensure Lake Oswego citizens receive no tax increase in the coming year. That will require our city leaders to take a hard look at costs, something that is much needed.

Gerry Good is a Lake Oswego resident and member of the Citizen Budget Committee.

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