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Budgets will mean choices, but will our new council choose wisely?

“Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.”

— Will Rogers

A couple of years ago I wrote a column saying that budgets mean choices and the easiest choice is “doing nothing.” Berg

Unfortunately we aren’t likely to have that option in future years. Not only is our street degradation catching up on us, but utility costs continue to skyrocket with no end in sight. I often worry about our senior residents and the fixed costs of their utility bills.

At the same time various groups want the city to continue subsidizing the golf course, build a new tennis center and sponsor various activities from the farmers market to concerts in the park. While we may all like these activities, are they “nice to have” or core services?

They all cost money and when funds are scarce, something has to give.

We are in the middle of the largest capital project in the city’s history that will add approximately $125 million in debt to our property owners. At the same time our streets need about $25 million in the next 5 to 10 years to be maintained. So, what comes first, “nice to haves” or core services?

That is the key decision facing Lake Oswego.

I sat through the town hall meeting of the council to take notes and hear the views of all the residents. What I began to realize is everyone has a favorite service. The key is in realizing how many taxpayers pay for each service versus how many residents actually use it.

Most of the focus was on services where 1 percent to 5 percent of the population uses it but where 95 percent to 99 percent of the residents actually pay for it.

That’s not a core service; it’s a special interest program. There is a big difference.

Many of us don’t actually realize what we are paying for because we don’t use these services. It’s an interesting quandary for the majority of residents who think we are paying too much. That’s what happens when government produces “mission creep,” or trying to do everything, not its core mission.

Our council will be struggling this year as they try to address the cost of personnel versus capital improvements. It’s been the key issue because revenue isn’t really growing as fast as personnel costs, so something has to give, especially when we have very large infrastructure needs. Most agree that government’s mission is core services not “nice to have” services. Yet, previous administrations promoted “mission creep” (think West End Building, streetcar, Foothills, etc.) over core services, or “do everything” versus the critical needs of our maturing community.

The measure of success for this new council will be if they fundamentally change priorities or if they continue doing things the same. Will they continue the “mission creep” direction or focus on core priorities which preserve community character? Our citizens now require a council that clearly provides choices and their associated costs. That’s essential to achieving the “informed consent” of a unique community.

Despite the “spin,” the jury is still out on this council and its ability to implement legitimate change. Let’s all continue to evaluate, support, criticize and assist all administrations to ensure they do what’s needed to preserve our community character.

Feel free to visit COLA LO at commonsenselolblogspot.com or commonsenselo.org.

Dave Berg is a 22-year resident of Lake Oswego and a board member of COLA LO. He is also chairman of the city’s budget committee, made up of city council members and citizen volunteers.



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