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City needs to 'stick to the basics'

Lake Oswego has about a dozen expensive projects in the pipeline — all designed to make this great city even nicer.

A new library, new city hall, transforming Foothills, enhancing Lake Grove, a new 9-1-1 call center, a replacement for the South Shore Fire Station, a new tennis facility, a new water system, a new maintenance facility — and the list goes on.

Now it has even been proposed that we convert the Willamette Shore Trolley line into a bike and pedestrian path. When taken individually, each of these projects looks desirable and will certainly contribute to the livability of Lake Oswego. When examined collectively, however, these “good ideas” create a serious financial burden on taxpayers and make it more difficult for retired people to stay in their homes and more challenging to attract young families into our increasingly expensive community.

Let’s pause to examine why citizens in Lake Oswego are concerned about the current direction of our city government. Simply put, the majority of our current city council has not been listening to the majority of the Lake Oswego citizens.

In so many ways, the majority of Lake Oswego citizens has been calling for greater fiscal restraint and stewardship of our tax dollars. Instead, the council has moved ahead on expensive project after expensive project. In 2002, our city debt was $49.8 million. We now have 12 projects in the pipeline that, if implemented, will increase our current debt from $154 million to $371 million.

The current and proposed debt is exceedingly high for a city of less than 40,000. The many “good ideas” will put us further in debt — and ignore the message that citizens are trying to get across to the city council.

In these challenging economic times, businesses and households are having to make financial adjustments to live within their means. Likewise, the Lake Oswego city government also needs to make the tough decisions necessary to assure long-term fiscal viability and to live within its means.

John Wooden, the late UCLA basketball coach whose team won season after season, advocated “doing the fundamentals exceptionally well.” He did not encourage doing exotic, high-risk plays. He stuck to the basics. As a city, we need to “stick to the basics,” particularly in these economic times, and avoid the “exotics.” We need to pause to listen to the citizens, re-examine our priorities, and focus on providing the fundamental city services exceptionally well — not adding expensive projects to the growing list. That’s why we need to put a fiscally responsible mayor and like-minded city councilors into office this November.

Mason Frank is a longtime resident of Lake Oswego.