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LO voters say no to Measure 3-295

A bond measure intended to fund the $20 million cost of Lake Oswego's West End Building through property taxes was defeated by voters in Tuesday's election. Fifty-seven percent of Lake Oswegans rejected the idea, with 42 percent voting in favor.

The bond measure had strong support from members of the Lake Oswego City Council, who wanted new taxes to repay a costly short-term loan used to buy the former Safeco Insurance building on Kruse Way two years ago.

Though there was no formal opposition to the idea, many in the community are still steaming about the building's purchase.

The hasty acquisition of the building from Safeco Insurance in April 2006 and a subsequent run at converting it into a community center sparked enormous community debate.

Some citizens felt so strongly that city leaders had run wild with the budget they filed a ballot measure to sell the building and limit the future spending power of the Lake Oswego City Council last November.

That vote appeared to resolve the question of whether to keep the West End Building, with voters electing to hang onto it by a slim margin.

But paying for the building through property taxes apparently held little appeal for Lake Oswego voters, who had clearly rejected Ballot Measure 3-295 by about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

City councilors gathered briefly on election night to watch election results unravel at the Upper Drive home of City Councilor Donna Jordan. Most cleared out early, moving on to other parties and away from the somber news of the bond measure's failing.

'We have reconciled to the fact that people didn't want to pay for this right now for a lot of reasons,' Jordan said.

She said those reasons include the recent downturn of the national economy, as well as a lack of information about what will be done with the West End Building in the long term.

Jordan said a public vote on whether to buy the building in the first place likely would have yielded different results. But Lake Oswego City Councilors now appear to be paying for the move.

Stuck with a $20 million property and an unstable funding plan, elected leaders must now decide how to pay for West End Building with available city funds. They have previously expressed an unwillingness to sell it and have already moved some programs into the facility.

'What do you do when people say they want something but they don't want to pay for it? That's where we are now,' Jordan said.

Had the ballot measure been approved, it would have cost Lake Oswego property owners 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $105 a year for an average Lake Oswego home assessed at $300,000.

The 20-year measure would have paid off the temporary line of credit used to buy the building, one that's draining $1 million a year from city reserves just in interest payments. The city has yet to pay any principal on the loan.

Those who opposed the ballot measure felt voters should not approve money measures for the West End Building until more is known about what the city will do with it and at what cost.

John Surrett led an opposition group called Ask Lake Oswegans last November, the group that advocated for selling the West End Building.

Surrett's group did not actively campaign against the ballot measure in this election but opposed the idea. Surrett said he was relieved by the bond measure's defeat.

'I think the people are voting from their hearts. We didn't really even mount a campaign,' he said.

Surrett surmised the proposed 20-year debt did not appeal to voters in tough economic times and that Lake Oswegans were too concerned about future costs in the West End Building to pay for it through property taxes.

Lake Oswego leaders have eyed myriad uses for the West End Building, ranging from Parks and Recreation programs to a future police department and 9-1-1 call center. Millions in future costs potentially lay ahead.

City leaders were prepared to launch talks to guide plans for the West End Building by June. Jordan said Tuesday those talks would still go forward and would now include talk about financing.