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Fiscal responsibility is needed

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'Why don't somebody print the truth about our present economic situation? We spent six years of wild buying on credit - everything under the sun, whether we needed it or not - and now we are having to pay for 'em, and we are howling like a pet coon.'

- Will Rogers

Sound familiar? There has been a pretty dominant philosophy in Lake Oswego for many years regarding spending, taxes, and doing it all. I call it the 'tax and spend to grow 'philosophy which is based on unlimited resources and ever growing expenditures. It exemplifies the belief that LO is a big city and we should become like our neighbor, the city of Portland. Not my philosophy but certainly entrenched in our current local government.

The fact is over the past 10 years our population has grown 3.8 percent.

That's not big city and it certainly doesn't justify big city expenditures. Unfortunately, the philosophy has been mentioned many times in terms of bond ratings, debt load and the common statement that 'residents can afford this' in terms of fees/tax increases. That philosophy was expressed in the recent Citizen Budget Committee meetings by more than one city councilor ('we aren't at our allowed debt limit so it's OK'). I cringed at the lack of financial knowledge in those statements, but most of us have ignored the increasing costs for many years. We just accepted that they were the inherent cost of living in LO.

That's no longer appropriate for a community of 37,000. Why? Simple economics, $300 million divided by 37,000 is $8,108 per resident or $19,355 per household. Most of us don't want to have that kind of debt for water projects these days. We would rather conserve than go into 20+ years of debt.

That's the difference between fiscal responsibility and the dominant 'spend to grow' philosophy. Now take into account all the proposed projects and public facilities that are on the slate for LO (we are committed to $95 million LOIS plus $115 million Partnership alone). Anyone wonder why our utility bills are skyrocketing?

Most residents realize this and it's a source of ongoing consternation across the political spectrum. It's no longer rational, it's really all about a belief in 'tax and spend to grow.' What are we really growing, if the population is just growing 3.8 percent in 10 years? Ponder that one awhile, as I will address it in a future column. Hint: Most of us have observed it over time, but likely didn't recognize it until recently.

The bottom line is this council has decided (4-3) to spend more, tax residents more and continue the 'spend to grow' philosophy. It is no longer sustainable in our maturing community where the millions spent on 'spend to grow' should go toward core services which we all believe in (streets, public safety, parks, library, etc)?

I support the council in its role as the executive arm of local government and that requires our input in terms of guiding philosophy for this city of 15,500 households. Do we want 'tax and spend to grow' or fiscal responsibility moving toward an increasingly better future for our community? It's the core question in the 2012 election. Feel free to visit COLA LO at www.commonsenselo.blogspot.comor www.commonsenselo.org.

Dave Berg is a 20-year resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA LO.