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Costs of proposed community center are too high for citizens

It goes without saying that before anyone can provide 'informed consent' they should be fully informed of potential benefits and risks. Unfortunately, in Lake Oswego, very real risks have been disregarded by a city council bent on selling on the benefits of transforming Safeco into a publicly financed community center.

In June of 2004, the city of Molalla opened an aquatic center, which according to city Manager John Atkins, Jr., was built 'without much thought about how to sustain its operation financially.' Since opening, the center has incurred losses of approximately $300,000 a year. Unless a bond measure passes in November, the three-year-old center will likely be closed. The Molalla Library, which also has served Molalla citizens as a kind of community center, now is struggling to meet operating expenses.

Here in Lake Oswego it is tempting to assume that because Lake Oswego is an affluent community, and because the Safeco site is well positioned, being located not only at the geographical center of Lake Oswego, but also situated in one of the most successful business corridors in the Portland metro area, that financial risk may be minimal. However, a survey of financial statements of swim centers in surrounding communities suggests that large operating deficits are the norm.

The North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District from 2001 to 2004 reported a total loss of $1,728,620, or an average loss of $432,155 per year. In 12 years of operation, it only made a profit once - the year it opened in 1995, for a total of $6,416. The NCPRD financial statement clarified that those losses are on top of debt service, or the construction costs of the facility. Similarly, the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District in Beaverton reported a total loss of $2.29 million during the same period, averaging $572,543 in the red each year. The most successful example in a similar-sized community was the Southwest Community Center at Gabriel Park, which reported total losses of $463,717 during this period.

Gordon Howard's comments in last week's Lake Oswego Review (Sept. 2007) provided a fairly thorough accounting of where many of Oregon's pool facilities are located, including indoor and outdoor municipal pools, school district/community college facilities and some privately owned pools, such as health clubs and the financially insolvent Mountain Park pool. However, he ignores the fact that these operations are losing millions of dollars. When these public facilities carry operation losses (on top of huge construction and debt service expenses), they siphon resources from other public, such as police, fire and library services.

The $60 million recommendation by the Lake Oswego Community Center Steering Committee included a wave pool, but not a pool for competitive or lap swimming. As an ad-on later, at today's construction costs, a lap pool could be built for approximately $15 million; operating costs unknown. Fee assumptions projected by the steering committee estimate resident annual pass costs to range between $300 for youth between ages five and eight up to $750 per family. After adding the cost of purchasing Safeco to the total financing package, homeowners should expect increased property tax assessments of about $500 per year for 20 years (for a $300,000 assessed house value) whether they use the pool of not.

We are talking about much more than 'just a little pocket change' to build and operate a community swim center here in Lake Oswego and these costs will not be temporary, but ongoing, for decades to come. A 'yes' vote on Ask Lake Oswegan's Measure 3-269 will shift final approval from the city council to voters, and will help promote informed consent.

Carolyne Jones is a resident of Lake Oswego.