Tuesday, May 15, 2012

COLA LO Board Member Publishes Budget Article

To All COLA LO Members,

Last week board member Dave Berg published an article in the LO Review on budget issues and feedback he has received from the community.    The article can be found in the 5/10/12 issue of the Review.   Unfortunately the LO Review is not posting Opinion articles on its blog site LO Review Opinion any longer.  

As many residents know the opinion online was very active but mysteriously its now disappeared as the election approaches.  

 Several members have questioned the reasons for this decision? 

 However the text of the article can be found below.   Please notify all members, contacts, and friends...

Citizens now realize what Lake Oswego can really afford?

“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” - Will Rogers

Last year I wrote an article with the following statement:  “the new council will be making difficult decisions in the next 1-3 years which will be harder if we keep doing things the same and expecting the outcome to change”.  I cited all the projects on the table, their cumulative cost of  $200+ million, and that the cost of these projects exceeded $12,900 for every household in the city!     

This statement received a lot of public comment and began a community discussion about priorities.   It’s a healthy discussion and has been insightful.   Not only in how much agreement there is on core priorities but also how little understanding there was on actual city spending.  The more we inform the community the more a strong consensus is evident.  

We now know what the city can really afford.   How?   Last month our city manager released a budget  message which is realistic and reminds us of the difficult decisions ahead.  Basically the budget document says that general fund revenue is not growing while the cost of labor is growing significantly.   Much of that expenditure growth is outside our control,  unless we are willing to reduce our city staff.    I have written extensively on the size of our staff,  but reductions in staff, are not the only answer  to our situation.

Why?  We need to stop spending our general funds on projects which aren’t required.   That not only saves expenditures but also gives us the flexibility to preserve our core services.   I don’t think citizens in Lake Oswego want to cut our police or fire personnel.   I do know they certainly don’t want to cut our maintenance personnel and watch our streets degrade any further.   So it’s time to eliminate the “nice to have” political  projects and refocus on the “must have” core services. 

Unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to be as politically appealing as the “visionary concepts” that have cost us millions lately.     Especially when considering the fact that needing those wasted millions to preserve core services has been politically ignored for years.   We will continue to see the cost of this misdirection well into the future. 

Beware of those that ask for tax and fee increases to preserve everything under “services”.   That’s a philosophy we have observed for the last decade and it’s a bankrupt strategy.   In this philosophy, the term “services” is often used and its purposely generic. Why?   It doesn’t force us to identify our priorities and allows  the political establishment to implement a do everything “tax and spend” approach.   The bottom line is that’s not effective, other than in growing local government, until we can no longer afford it.  

When I asked “how far the millions for the Foothills study, Streetcar, or the WEB could go toward core services”  many recognized the true cost of those decisions.  We should have allocated those funds toward building our reserves and funding core services.   Unfortunately that’s what we really could afford rather than wasting them on special interests.  It’s time for a change.

Thank you for all your comments and please continue to call or email at david.b.berg@gmail.com.    Our community needs your views and solutions. 

Dave Berg is a 21 year resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA LO. 

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