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New costs for community center sort of seem like smoke, mirrors

Because of the public outcry at the $100 million cost of the Safeco community center proposed in October, 2006, the city's architect, BOORA Architects, and the Steering Committee are now proposing to retain as much of the current Safeco building shell as possible. At city council's request, they have also deleted the costs (but not the space) of the new library, which was a part of the original proposal. Further, they eliminated some of the space in the October design and the therapy pool. The Steering Committee has proclaimed that the estimated the project costs of the new proposal are now at $57.3 million. Wow, what a reduction!

But is it really? They did not include the original cost of the Safeco property of $20.7 million. And if council added the library back at the size proposed in October, it would add $24 million. Adding these back to the new projected costs, we now get $102 million! Huh? We're back to $100 million.

The Mayor has said she will not put a $100 million bond issue before the voters in November 2008. I truly believe that. She knows it won't pass. But she believes a $65 million bond measure will pass. How do she and Council plan to reduce the cost by $35 million?

They know that they must include a new library in the proposed plan because no one will vote to pay $65 million for just an athletic center, swimming pools and 'gathering' places. So, they will include a new library in the plan but they will reduce the size of the library by 35% from the original proposal. This will save $11 million.

Second, they will try to remove the $20.7 million purchase cost of the Safeco property from the bond measure by paying for it in some other way and thereby have the community center constructed on 'free' land and building. They don't say how at this point, but wealthy contributors wanting their names on the building are the only real option which does not cost the taxpayers.

Third, they plan to attract private business investment in the project for the balance of the reductions required. But the latest $102 million plan has no provisions in it for private 'shelled' space or structures for private business development. That means the private business developers will need to finance these costs themselves Are developers willing to pay these costs and then make an additional contribution to reduce the total project cost to the city? I think not.

Is this a reasonable plan? It is doubtful the Mayor will be successful in attracting contributors or private investors willing to pay $25 million to reduce the cost of the facility. Even if the Mayor is successful, are we citizens willing to pay the $65 million remaining costs of this facility? Even at this best-case scenario, the average taxpayer, according to the city, with an assessed value $350,000 will pay additional taxes of $399 per year for 20 years, or $7,980. A taxpayer with $700,000 assessed value will pay twice that or $798 per year and $15,960 over 20 years. Taxpayers with commercial property will pay increased taxes at the same rates. For those who rent houses, offices, or other facilities, landlords will be forced to pass on the increased property taxes in increased rents.

The Safeco community center has been an ill-conceived plan from its very inception. The longer the Mayor and Council continue to push for this project, the more costly it will be and the more spendthrift and wasteful the City and its citizens will appear to be.

And no matter who pays for it, the proposed community center still costs $102 million. In view of the many other worthwhile and necessary projects on which we could spend this money, squandering this on a grandiose community center is unconscionable in itself.

Gordon Umaki is a resident of Lake Oswego.