April begins another year of the Citizen's Budget Committee, and as a member, I urge my fellow citizens to participate in the process.
While we are faced with many funding decisions, I submit none is as important as resolving the West End Building issue. What some originally envisioned as a gleaming symbol of pride for our community has become a painful example of bungled city leadership, resulting in division and even distrust in our elected leadership. Rather than charting a course of action, our leaders appear largely paralyzed by fear of facing up to the fact that this issue must be dealt with. In short, if we had the vision and courage to buy the building, we must have the vision and courage to deal with it. So, where are we as a community as of this point?
At my request, the city finance director has provided the following accounting of WEB interest payments:
For fiscal year ending June 30
2011 $380,000 (estimate)
Add to this, the interest paid for the six months of ownership in 2006, approximately $500,000, plus appraisal and closing costs. Result, as of June 30, 2011, it is projected we will see more than $3.5 million wasted on interest. Zero dollars paid toward principle.
We have been the beneficiary of falling interest rates the last few years, the rates now are headed upward and increasing rates means increasing interest payments. Additionally, we have paid hundreds of thousands on operations and maintenance.
Remember, if this building were still in private hands, it would be generating significant tax revenue for our city, schools, police fire and EMS
Untold thousands of hours of community, staff and council time have been expended. Community time is donated, councilor/mayor time is minimally compensated, but city staff time is full charge. What is the payoff for all this investment? I am sad to say, virtually nothing.
To their credit, three councilors have voted to put the fate of the WEB to the voters on a ballot measure. The mayor and three remaining councilors voted against putting it before voters because in their words, they couldn't write a 'winning ballot measure.' What does that imply? Well, in their view, we are keeping the WEB until the 'visionary' purchase can be validated be a vote of the people they were elected to serve. The council majority justified its decision by saying that the approximately $20,000 cost of putting together the ballot measure would be a waste of money if the measure didn't pass. Huh? The survey they used to gather public opinion regarding the WEB cost taxpayers approximately $20,000.
If our elected leaders after years of meetings, mounting debt and public unrest are unable to put a plan in front of voters to approve, we should sell the building. Stop adding to our debt and get the building back in private hands where it can provide a significant return to our city through property tax. I dare say, even the most 'visionary leader' who pushed the WEB purchase (without public approval) would be embarrassed by the WEB as it is today. If elected leadership ever expects our community to feel good about trusting them with streetcar/Foothills (a vastly larger project than the WEB) they better first clean up the mess the WEB purchase has become.
Dan Williams, Lake Oswego, is a member of the Citizen's Budget Committee and was a candidate last year for a position on the Lake Oswego City Council.