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Citizens provide a diverse consensus on the budget

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” — Ronald Reagan

This is an exceptional year for our Citizens Budget Committee (CBC). It is a group of people with very different views in terms of partisanship, economics and social issues. Yet, I don’t believe you could find a more qualified array of people to deal with the core issues facing our community.

What defines this group is a core belief in doing what is best for our community, despite the myriad of issues and opportunities facing us. Our approved budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 continues a redirection that began last year, when we reduced positions by 3 percent and redirected funds to core services.

This year, CBC recommended a debt policy limit, allocated a massive amount of capital to streets, reduced a limited number of positions and established a funding strategy for a new maintenance facility. All of these were designed to improve our quality of life and again to reposition the direction of investments in the community. We made significant changes last year to staffing levels and recognized this as the key issue facing our community. Why? Benefit costs are accelerating well beyond our ability to pay for them, given the allowed increases in property taxes.

Yet at the same time, no member of CBC proposed anything like the harsh reductions predicted by others two years ago. A consensus formed that we need to deal with the issue through attrition. Our efforts last year extended the time when our city ran out of sufficient funds to pay staff from 18 months to several years. This decision gave us the flexibility to invest in streets and infrastructure and allowed us to maintain tax rates within the allowed limits.

The FY 2014-2015 budget will continue this redirection, but with a massive investment in infrastructure. This year, $119 million will be spent on the water project. On top of that, 50 percent of the remaining capital budget will go toward streets and street-related projects, with 11 percent going toward public safety. The bottom line is that we will be dealing with a lot of road signs/closures, but when the year is over, we should see a dramatic improvement in our community. Newly paved streets, LED lighting and better tools for our public safety professionals.

CBC increased funding for neighborhood enhancement and volunteer coordination, and for resolving the sensitive lands issue. We did this to allow residents more opportunity to improve their neighborhoods and define our “community character.” Coincidentally, it also allows the city to leverage citizen’s expertise.

In my closing comments at the last meeting of the CBC, I paraphrased remarks from a book by Bob Rubin that said, “All his politics were learned at the dinner table from a diverse community.” Contrast this perspective with the quote at the top of this article. The continuity of these perspectives says something unique about exceptional people of differing views, working together for the common good.

When I became budget committee chair two years ago, my goal was a CBC that sat down at the dinner table and worked out what was best for our community, with an “open and inclusive process” that included diverse opinions, perspectives and debate. The unanimous approval of the FY 2014-2015 budget by council, a first in modern Lake Oswego history, says we may have achieved this goal.

Dave Berg is a 23-year resident of Lake Oswego, a board member of COLA LO and chairman of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee.




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