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LORA budget set at $10.9 million

The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency tweaked recommendations from a citizens budget committee but ultimately adopted a $10.9 million budget Monday night.

The 2011-12 budget, which takes effect July 1, allocates almost $7 million for urban renewal projects, including $3 million for property acquisition and planning of a new library and other developments on the north side of downtown.

An advisory committee made up of council members and citizens in May approved a spending plan that cut $670,000 the city had planned to spend on the region's ongoing study of a streetcar line from Portland to Lake Oswego. It also added spending for a new project, $150,000 to create a left-turn lane from A Avenue onto Third Street, before advancing the plan to the urban renewal agency for adoption.

Budget committee chairman Ron Smith sent a letter to the LORA board urging adoption of the plan.

He said the board should wait to spend any more money on the transit project until taxpayers can weigh in; a citizen advisory vote on the proposal is planned by May 2012. Meanwhile, Smith advocated for spending 'on physical improvement projects' and on efforts to improve the business climate downtown.

If nothing else, he said, 'Please no more dollars for studies. We are suffering from study fatigue.'

But the LORA board, made up of the city council, made one major change before adopting the budget committee's recommendations, restoring $484,000 of the recommended $670,000 cut for transit planning. It couldn't add back the entire amount, because any change bigger than 10 percent of a fund's total expenditures would have required completing an extensive public process with little time left to do it.

The budget passed 5-2, with LORA chairman Jack Hoffman and board members Jeff Gudman, Donna Jordan, Sally Moncrieff and Bill Tierney in favor, and Mike Kehoe and Mary Olson opposed.

Gudman supported the plan even though he felt the city could delay spending money on streetcar planning until other sources of funding come through.

'My opposition to the streetcar project, based upon the facts known, has not changed,' he said. 'But we have to have a budget.'

Jordan disagreed, saying it's even more important to spend money to refine the proposal now to ensure the right plan, if any, goes forward.

'We're doing it ahead of time so we have a project we are all satisfied with before we move into a stage that requires more money,' Jordan said. She added that the number is simply an earmark, allocating money in case the agency needs to spend it.

Moncrieff agreed with Jordan, calling the streetcar 'a very complex project.'

'Through the public testimony, we had a lot of questions raised,' Moncrieff said, 'and I'm looking forward to having those questions answered in the next phase.'

Tierney noted that the council voted by a slim margin to continue studying the streetcar line, but the decision was conditional, requiring additional work to answer questions and refine project information.

'It was a trying and taxing evening for all of us,' Tierney said. 'You've had your battle … it wasn't successful. Not every issue needs to be debated item for item.

'I think we need to band together and say this budget accomplishes it lot.'