Ransom our library for streetcar, Foothills
Next Halloween, the trick will be behind the library mask.
Unlike the West End Building, we easily can build a downtown library without raising taxes. We'll have ample bonding authority from Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency (LORA), tax increment financing (TIF) with millions left for other projects. That's not enough for some at city hall. They're considering hiking taxes with a general obligation (G-O) bond for at least part of construction costs.
Since there's more than enough TIF to fully construct the library, every additional dollar simply shifts another dollar to lower priority, less voter-friendly items on the city's wish list. This G-O bond scheme would ransom our library for streetcar and Foothills. It's a slap in the face to people who have worked so long to bring us a new library and salt in the wound to WEB backers.
Meanwhile, the city is considering a new police/communications/municipal court building either on the WEB property or behind city hall on Evergreen. Again, a WEB facility would almost certainly require higher taxes while one downtown should not. (Crime and telecommunications are specific concerns in Oregon's urban renewal statute.) Also, the municipal court and other functions could stay in the city hall if the public safety building is next door, saving significant costs. While we don't have enough bonding authority now, we could pay for both downtown projects, as envisioned, almost totally with TIF in a few years. That could leave nothing for other projects, so we may face two higher-tax G-O bond issues in the next year's general election.
We should trash any such bond issues at the polls, unless we really want more money for streetcar and Foothills. This sibling of bait-and-switch isn't new. Remember last year's defeated TriMet bus bond? TriMet is buying buses anyway. It's just that the money is no longer available for other purposes.
Before approving either project, we must get serious about costs and benefits, especially with city hall renovation/replacement looming. Cost control has been missing from LORA/major projects for years, given the Millennium Park and Sundeleaf Plaza overruns, the Lacey's sweetheart contract, and high library and public safety building price tags. Cost containment must return to the priority list, even if at the bottom.
For example, the library project would increase space from 27,000 to 60,000 square feet. What functionality would be lost and how much money would be saved by, say, just doubling it to 54,000?
The public safety building would triple space for police and communications. How many more criminals would go unpunished if we just doubled it? Staff need enough space to accomplish their work efficiently. Too much means lost productivity and unnecessarily high utility bills.
Analysts will consider integrating the public safety project with city hall. One large project may be the more efficient approach. TIF can't do everything, but it can pay for a major part of these high priority projects if we freeze LORA spending and control costs. Every TIF dollar for streetcar, Foothills, or gussying up downtown is one less for police and library.
Wouldn't most Lake Oswegans put library and police ahead of all other LORA projects? Our challenge is to make sure the city council respects that and acts accordingly.
R A Fontes is a resident of Lake Oswego.