One of the top priorities of my mayoral campaign is the concern I have for keeping Lake Oswego affordable for all residents. This concern grows stronger and deeper with every passing day. In conversations with fellow Lake Oswegans of all ages and diverse years of residency, a recurrent question is asked: 'Will I be able to continue to afford to live in Lake Oswego?'
The reasons many are asking about Lake Oswego's affordability relates directly to the increased costs we face with the benefits and challenges of living here. The challenges are: The fundamental problems of our infrastructure system which provides the essential community services of sewer and water; the upkeep of our roads and provision of high quality emergency services; and our priorities for how our money is currently being spent.
Most often mentioned are the sewer interceptor replacement costs, now in excess of $100 million and our share of the water system upgrade which is close to $60 million. But, did you know that a new maintenance facility at the Jean Road location is estimated to be $23 million (July 8, 2008 Council Special Meeting)? And, of course, we still have a $20 million loan for the Safeco/West End Building. Ongoing interest only payments and monthly maintenance costs for that non-essential acquisition are almost $100,000 a month or about $1 million a year and are over and above the original purchase price. The accumulated total cost for over 2½ years is $23-24 million. The city has essentially only been a 'renter' of the building.
Also, just this week, I learned that a critical lynchpin for the streetcar project in the Foothills area (25 percent of which is in a floodplain) is a requirement by property owners/ housing developers in that area, that the sewage treatment plant (city of Portland-owned and not at the end of its useful life) must be closed and moved before they would proceed with any development. So where would our sewage from our new interceptor sewage transport system go to be treated? The answer: Possibly to a not-yet-permitted sewage treatment facility in Oregon City and at a cost of yet another $100 million! I wasn't sure if that estimate includes the closure of the Foothills facility or is only for the transport system to get the sewage from here to Oregon City. So, it could cost more.
Even though I do generally favor rail transportation, this project appears to have many unanswered questions with potentially huge costs for Lake Oswegans both now and in the future. There is currently a $4 million Environmental Impact Statement study for the project that must be completed. From our recent boat dock experience, the results of such studies are essential before projects proceed.
All of the above costs will cause a 'pancaking' of debt for Lake Oswegans and will result in very large increases in our water bills and property taxes. And, there are more projects: A new fire station, possible city hall and library upgrades, various neighborhood infrastructure projects, and many property tax increase ballot measures vying for our shrinking tax dollar.
In short, we do have many reasons to be concerned about the affordability issue in Lake Oswego. And how do these costs play into our own personal financial situations? Many residents have declining regular income sources but still there are increasing college, health care, gas, food and clothing expenses, just to mention a few.
I have made a concerted effort over the past two to three years to attend just about every city council meeting to become knowledgeable, ask questions, and make comments on several of those issues previously discussed. If elected as your mayor I will continue to dedicate at least 100 percent of my time to be vigilant, forthright, and an advocate of your interests to keep Lake Oswego affordable for all. I would appreciate your vote on Nov. 4. Thank you.
John Surrett is a candidate for mayor of Lake Oswego.