Vote yes on 3-269, no on 3-273
The purchase of the Safeco site for $20 million plus improvements potentially creates $105 million in new debt that has created a storm of protest from Lake Oswego taxpayers resulting in Measure 3-269 appearing on the November ballot.
Passage of 3-269, will require the city to place the Safeco site up for sale and require future purchases of real property in excess of $2 million be approved by the residents. Property required for public safety is exempted.
Some argue that the $2 million limitation would hamstring the city, which is not the case. The city can enter into any agreement to purchase property subject to a vote of approval by the voters. The city retains the right to finalize the purchase upon approval, but is not obligated to buy if disapproved.
Tax increase for the financing the $105 million over a period of 20 years at 5 percent interest would be $500 to $600 per year, for 20 years, on a property assessed at $300,000. Add that to new debt for the essential new in-lake sewer interceptor, and expansion of the water purification system plus proposed urban renewal projects, the indebtedness is estimated to be between $457 to $615 million. This translates to an estimated $2,120 tax increase on that same $300,000.
The city said its plan for the Safeco site when it was purchased in December 2005 was for a community center. To date (councilors) say there is no plan. A steering committee came up with a grandiose plan for a community center, which included two swimming pools, indoor track, exercise and recreation rooms for yoga meditation, card playing, etc. Their plan has been set aside. Nothing remotely suggests the general public wants it. The fact that the city has no plan for the Safeco building is reflected in its Resolution 06-15, prepared in support of the purchase of the site. 06-15 is a wish list of things that the site may be used for such as: Aquatic, sports, recreation and exercise facilities, etc. This is not a plan.
The issue of the library has vacillated. Is the library to be moved from down town to the 42,000 square feet set aside in Safeco; is the space to be for a branch library; or, as in the words of the mayor, it is to have a 'presence,' whatever that means? The current location of the library is within walking distance of the center of downtown Lake Oswego. It should stay where it is. If more room is needed, then divide it into two parts. One part, the children's and fictional recreational reading division can stay where it is. The factual information division, for research and study can possible be installed in the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, which is not heavily used.
The city has placed measure 3-273 on the Nov. 6 ballot asking the voters whether the West End building (Safeco) should be retained in city ownership. The explanatory statement accompanying the ballot measure states in material part: 'However, the determination of the permanent use of the property has not yet occurred.' The document further states that 'If the entire purchase price were to be refinance through general obligation bonds, it is estimated that property taxes would increase by $105 per year for a home having the average 2006/2007 Lake Oswego assessed value (not market value) of $300,000.' This is misleading since it does not mention that there is an additional estimated $80 million in improvement cost raising taxes to a total of $500 to $600 per year.
In conclusion, the city has lost touch with its taxpayers. There is no ground swell of popular acceptance of the Safeco site nor for the grandiose plan by the steering committee. There is no city plan nor realistic justification shown for its need. That is why I will vote 'yes' on 3-269 and 'no' on 3-273.
John Beau is a resident of Lake Oswego.