'Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.' - Will Rogers
What are we really growing, if the population is just growing 3.8 percent in 10 years? Let's take a look as I received a lot of requests for the answer. In 2001 Lake Oswego had 338.3 FTE in terms of employees and by 2010 that employment level increased to 357.4 FTE, an increase of 19.1 FTE.
Not really significant, until you realize that the population only increased from 35,434 to 36,755 (1,221 people). Local government grew by 5.6 percent or effectively twice the rate of the population. I am not one of those people against growth in government. It has a well defined role in many core services, but where is this real growth?
Most of us assume the growth must be in critical services like police and fire personnel. Wrong, they have been held relatively flat (2.0 FTE). So where is this growth taking place over the past decade? Net assets have grown from $162.09 million (2003) to $205.84 million (2010) or 27 percent. Local government is growing but where?
The details show that growth is occurring in general government and utilities. It's growing at a rapid rate compared to the population. Any wonder why our fees and utility bills are skyrocketing? The fact is we are growing local government administration.
It's the old 'tax and spend to grow' philosophy again. It's based on unlimited resources, ever-growing expenditures, and the belief that Lake Oswego is a big city and we should become like our neighbor, the city of Portland. That's not good when coupled with big city expenditures. Eventually you need to make a change to ensure the expenditures are justified. So what do you do? Well we need more people! We need to pay for the government we have if it's growing faster than the population!
That's the difference between fiscal responsibility and the dominant 'spend to grow' philosophy. Live within your means or do anything to grow the population to justify your ever-increasing expenditures. Sound familiar? Well it should resonate loudly with all of us. 'We absolutely need Foothills, streetcar, more density, more affordable housing, more transportation to Lake Oswego, etc.' 'Residents need all these services (even the ones they don't know about!)'
Why? What is it really all about? It's about expanding general government, not public safety. It's about expanding our debt to pay for larger projects and more people. Not the projects that bring more family wage jobs for people that live in Lake Oswego through targeted economic development. It's about bringing in projects that expand the tax base and justify growth in local government.
That's an entirely different community which produces property development, traffic issues, and transitory occupants. Revenues increase for local government, not public safety, not schools, and not core services. That is not a sustainable community, but one based on special interests.
Do we want 'tax and spend to grow' or fiscal responsibility moving toward an increasingly better future for our community? It's the core issue in the 2012 election and all citizens need to participate. Feel free to visit COLA LO at www.commonsenselo.blogspot.com or www.commonsenselo.or .
Dave Berg is a 20-year resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA LO.