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Public safety should trump rail expansion

We who live in Eastern Clackamas County generally have no problem with sharing the financial load on county projects that mostly benefit the people who live in the urbanized west side of the county.

That's how county government works: Your dollar is spent elsewhere this time, but next time it's a project closer to home that has more of a direct benefit. And it goes round and round.

But where we part company with this process is when it becomes increasingly clear that dollars are being spent recklessly, in ways that will mostly cause greater problems both now and into the future.

And so we have a commitment by the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to drop $25 million into the expansion of the TriMet MAX system, helping fund construction of the Orange Line, which will connect downtown Portland (in Multnomah County) to Milwaukie (in Clackamas County).

Like we said, we here in Sandy and Estacada probably won't get much use out of that line, but we're willing to share the financial burden if it will improve the lives and commerce of fellow county residents, without creating bigger problems.

Sadly, it's beginning to look as if this was a poorly timed commitment on the part of the Board of Commissioners.

A recent letter from Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, addressed to the Board of Commissioners, puts this in perspective.

While Roberts is careful to point out he's not opposed or in favor of the Orange Line expansion, he is fretful over the cost, where the money is going to come from and how it will impact public safety.

Roberts points out the simple math: "In order to pay for its $25 million share of the Orange Line, the Board of County Commissioners will have to allocate $1.9 million from the general fund each year for the next 20 years to cover the debt service. It is my understanding that this money will come from property taxes that are currently paid into the urban renewal district around Clackamas Town Center, which is set to expire in 2013."

That means those dollars would suddenly materialize beginning in 2013, has already been spent on light rail. This will come on the heels of a voter-approved funding levy last November where county residents voluntarily taxed themselves to shore up public safety.

"The construction of the Orange Line may well be a worthwhile public project," Roberts wrote in his letter to the commissioners. "However, it does not exist in a vacuum. Moving ahead with light rail will mean moving backwards on public safety, and likely other basic services to county residents."

Roberts ends his letter by asking the commissioners to reconsider their decision to commit this funding. And we lend our voice to that request.

Given the state of the economy and the likelihood that another rail line will only stretch county law enforcement further, we fear that this financial commitment will only cause more harm than good for all county residents.