Is Lake Oswego too expensive?
'We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress.'
- Will Rogers
I often ask myself 'how much can the maturing long-term residents of Lake Oswego really afford?' We just learned that we are the second most mature community and the fourth most child-free (71 percent of households) city in Oregon. Those are dramatic statistics illustrating an aging population with requirements for a different service mix and a need to lower the cost of delivery for those services.
You may have noticed that local/regional government has grown substantially in its influence over our community. The cost of local government has also grown with property taxes, fees for water, fees for streets, fees for construction, franchise fees and, well, just fees (taxes) in general. When is enough really enough? Most of us agree that government has a defined role in society, but the key question is how much government can we afford when property taxes continue to increase 3 percent and water fees increase 25 percent annually?
Why the increases? They are based on a deliberate 'tax and spend to grow' political philosophy which has dominated Lake Oswego over the past 10 years. Think WEB, streetcar, Foothills, water agreement, etc. Yet a city growing a few thousand residents over a decade (0.38 percent per year) just doesn't justify the expenditures often proposed in a larger city. Most residents realize this and it's a source of ongoing consternation across the political spectrum.
Lake Oswego needs to begin adjusting our services toward a more mature population, meeting the changing needs of its residents, while preserving the key services that make us desirable. Focusing on these service areas not only supports property values, but also enhances value for those buyers most likely to purchase in our ('mature') community.
We are now finishing another budget year and the challenges are becoming greater. Last month the council voted on a budget for FY11/12. They increased expenditures and your fees (taxes) in a 4-3 vote despite the recommendation from the CBC (Citizens Budget Committee). The CBC tried its best to rein in some of this spending and eliminate the fee (tax) increase. It was a dramatic change that didn't go over very well with elected officials, but in many ways was embraced by renewed public testimony and support. The bottom line is this council decided (4-3) to spend more and tax the residents of Lake Oswego more, despite the CBC recommendation (14-0).
It's time for the community to take a long look at the cost of local government and which services we need in the future. Rationalizing services and costs should include an alignment toward a maturing population. I certainly received some very direct comment from residents on these issues and very strong rebuttal from elected officials. Ask yourself how far can the millions spent on 'spend to grow' go toward core services?
I support the council in its role as the executive arm of local government. The council now needs your input in rationalizing the cost of city services and the size of city government, while our congressional representatives do the same at the national level. Let's avoid the national problems in Lake Oswego by dealing with them in advance and embracing the facts.
Dave Berg is a resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA-LO