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City shows just tip of the iceberg

I suppose it comes down to how one chooses to manage one's finances. My preference has always been to consider the big picture when planning expenditures. For instance, after 27 years in our Lake Oswego home, we realize that new siding will be necessary next summer, and vacation plans will probably have to be modified to accommodate that need. Until recent years, I assumed that those individuals elected to manage our city exercised the same type of prudence and care.

On Sept. 17, the Lake Grove Neighborhood Association hosted a meeting on the topic of 'Affording Our Future' that featured presentations by Mayor Judie Hammerstad and Finance Director Richard Seals. Mr. Seals indicated that $12 million and $5 million will be needed in 2007 for the sewer interceptor and water supply upgrades, respectively, with another $78 million for the sewer in 2008. Meanwhile, the overall estimates for these projects alone range from $181 million to $221 million, according to the city's own Engineering Department, depending on Tigard's decision to partner with us (on the water supply system). Mayor Hammerstad spoke of $20 million for the Safeco building and no more for the foreseeable future - only $9 per month for the average homeowner! But is there anyone out there who truly believes that no more will be spent on this property over the next 10 years, as she has implied in the press?

What about the $996,000 debt service on the loan to date and the $300,000 per year it will cost to maintain and utilize such a property? Mayor Hammerstad failed to mention the $300,000 spent to relocate the Parks and Recreation Department to the Safeco building. Also, not mentioned was the $509,000 that has been expended to develop the plan for a Community Center and the additional $85 million that would be required to realize the plan fully.

I am deeply troubled by the apparent philosophy of this mayor and city council with regards to the communication of upcoming financial requirements to the citizens of Lake Oswego. At best, there is disingenuousness and a distinct lack of transparency. At the city council meeting of Sept. 18, the mayor strongly steered the discussion away from the total cost of the sewer, water and Safeco development projects. Only the near-term, incremental costs are suitable for public discussion and citizens are kept in a perpetual 'need to know' status, as though we are children. This strikes me as an exceedingly paternalistic way to run a city.

For some time now, the city has been regularly implying that opponents of the Safeco purchase are lacking in vision. Meanwhile, they have been encouraging us to consider major expenditures individually, without contemplating the mountain of debt potentially headed our way: $103 million for the sewer interceptor, $78 million to $118 million for water and storm drain upgrades, $13 million for a new city hall, $20 million for Foothills redevelopment, $14 million to $42 million for the Lake Grove Village Plan, $30 million to $40 million for streetcar services. These projects are not a figment of our imaginations - they are all being actively pursued by the city. All except the new city hall are mentioned as goals on the city's Web site and in the city's most recent annual report.

According to Richard Seals, the city's current Triple-A bond rating is based upon a 25 percent debt-to-asset ratio. But what will the potential new debt load do the city's bond rating and our consequent ability to borrow money at a lower rate? We need to remind ourselves that all over this country, tens of thousands of people are losing their homes because they assumed too much debt. They over-extended themselves beyond their means and failed to see the big picture.

The fact remains that if you make a commitment today to the purchase of the Safeco property, you are committing to much more than $20 million. That's all the mayor wants you to see right now, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Vote no on Measure 3-273.

Yvonne R. Campbell is a resident of Lake Oswego.