Community center: Want it or need it?
Is the community center a want or a need? City leaders and people in favor of the community center will tell you it's a need. 'Webster's Dictionary' defines 'need' as 'a requirement, necessary duty or obligation.' The lake interceptor project meets this definition - the community center does not.
The cost of the project could be around $75 million, not including the purchase price plus interest on the loan according to a city official who talked to a group after last week's meeting. We do know that the cost will continue to go up since we will not vote on the improvements until 2008. In the meantime, the building will sit vacant and collect no tax revenue. The interest on the $25 million loan is $1.3 million per year. That's $2.6 million for the two years until we vote. We're losing property tax revenue from Safeco at $60,000 a year. The purchase price of Safeco was $20 million plus the estimate of $75 million to build. This $95 million does not even take into account operating and maintenance costs of the facility. Those costs are still to be determined.
Most people when asked the question 'Do you want a community center in your city?' would probably answer 'yes.' But if the question was paired with the true costs associated with the entire project and what that would mean to citizen's property taxes, I think you would see a much different answer.
The sensible approach at this point would be to spend $12,000 or less and do a comprehensive scientific citizen survey. This suggestion was made at last week's meeting, and was quickly shot down by a city representative in attendance. The city has done some scientific surveys, focus group surveys and parks and recreation surveys. The scientific surveys are consistent with one another. The focus group and parks and recreation surveys are consistent with each other, but not with the scientific surveys. This is because focus group surveys and the like are self-serving. Respondents are selected to meet specific criteria (interest groups) and the purpose of a focus group is to build consensus. In the case of the 2004 focus group, people were even gifted for their participation. These surveys are not a useful way of determining community support because they do not represent a cross-section of the population. The city should do another scientific citizen survey to save it from being embarrassed.
I guess the city is following the majority of Americans today who can't afford what they purchase. The city is living above its means and is expecting us to foot the bill.
Dan Bridinger is a resident of Lake Oswego.