Wheres LO compared to other Oregon cities?
'I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.'
- Will Rogers
Citizens have asked me many times about the size of our local government versus other cities. Generally, I have given them some facts and they often come back to me with even more questions. It's a complicated topic as Lake Oswego is a full-service city. But some facts are simple, LO performs most services with city staff like police, fire, water, etc. That's not the case for all cities.
A study by the city of Keizer in 2009 compared cities in terms of their staff levels per 1000 residents. That's the common metric used for performance in the public sector. It's no surprise that LO was very high in terms of staff levels per population.
What is surprising is that several neighboring cities are much lower than LO (LO 9.7 with Tualatin 5.9). If you add back another 25 percent for our unique operations, LO is still much higher and several cities now have even lower staff ratios than they did a few years ago. Why? They held staff relatively constant while their populations increased.
LO isn't really growing (3.8 percent in 10 years). That is the key; we staffed up for growth and it hasn't materialized. It's the old 'tax and spend to grow' again, but this time it's catching up with us.
As other cities grew their population and business base, LO remained relatively flat in terms of growth. That made our city staff/population metric much higher. It also ensured that the costs per resident are higher than neighboring cities. Why? Our higher staff costs per resident are paid for by relatively higher taxes and fees in LO. At some point, something has to give - it's basic economics.
I raised these concerns in the Citizens Budget Committee. Most of you saw me getting my head taken off by several elected officials for suggesting we needed to reduce staff in some areas and reallocate others to coincide with the changing needs of a maturing population. It wasn't pretty but it needed to be said and it came directly from citizens who contacted me.
At some point you need to 'normalize' city resources and ensure they are aligned for the real future and not some 'vision,' which likely will not materialize and costs millions in taxpayer dollars. City government does very well in some areas (public safety, library, etc.) and not so well in others, relative to neighboring cities. That's what the comparable metrics are now showing us on staff levels per population.
Now, I'm not one of those people who doesn't believe in government. Quite the contrary, I believe in its critical role and vital services within our society. The key is 'how much government' can we afford? That is the difference between fiscal responsibility and the dominant 'tax and spend' philosophy which believes in raising revenue (taxes, fees, utility rates) to support an ever growing bureaucracy, one which is larger than comparable cities and less efficient.
Those are the facts … Do we want 'tax and spend to grow' or fiscal responsibility for our community? It's the core issue in the 2012 election. Feel free to visit COLA LO at our blog, commonsenselo.blogspot.com or website, commonsenselo.org.
Dave Berg is a 20-year resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA LO.