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Citizen's View: Critics need to acknowledge roles in City budget process

I read with despair and disappointment the Citizen’s Views of Dave Berg (“Did the ‘promise’ of the 2012 LO election ever materialize,” May 12) and Gerry Good (“City officials failed to cut costs in latest round of budget talks,” May 19th), which criticized the Lake Oswego City Council’s management of City finances and facilities.

Berg’s subsequent announcement of his candidacy for mayor provided some context. Regardless, Berg’s and Good’s opines reminded me of a couple of ballplayers who played a nine-inning game and then subsequently denied all responsibility or even knowledge of the game’s outcome.

First, note that on May 12 — the day his Citizen’s View appeared in print — Berg was the Citizens Budget Committee member who moved to approve the budget. The vote was unanimous. He cannot reasonably separate himself from the process or its result.

Second, Berg insinuates that if not for his leadership on the Budget Committee, the City would have run amuck. The Budget Committee consists of 14 people — seven from the City Council and seven appointed by the City Council. Mayor Kent Studebaker chairs the appointment committee, and thus has had a direct role in appointing every current member of the Budget Committee. Berg, Good and the other five of us serve at the City Council’s pleasure. Further, one of the most consistently thoughtful and financially and philosophically prudent members of the committee has been Mayor Studebaker.

Third, the assertion that the City Council votes “every year for a water rate increase” is offensive. As Berg knows, the water rate increases were part of a financing package, negotiated years ago. He has consistently voted for budgets which contained these negotiated rates.

And fourth, the next five to seven years are going to be very challenging to every Oregon municipality, particularly with the PERS responsibility reasserted by the Oregon courts. But please consider the following:

-- The subject of City Full Time Employees (FTE) has been discussed at every Budget Committee meeting for the past two years;

-- The Budget Committee has acknowledged that because of staffing levels, it is difficult for City staff to plan, manage and construct road maintenance and improvements that have been budgeted. In addition, there is $20 million intended for sanitary sewers that has not been spent because of a lack of staff to accomplish the projects; and

-- The hiring of City Manager Scott Lazenby was a master stroke. He is professional, thoughtful, clear-eyed and committed to Lake Oswego’s future. He has instituted a budget philosophy that has each department managing its own budget, monitoring when and how money is spent.

Good’s assertion that we should privatize City functions is a well-worn bromide, but frankly one that I sympathize with. As always, it’s the details that matter.

FTEs and the services they provide are the issue and the expense. Identifying the City function to be privatized, evaluating the viability of proposals and their actual financial impact on the City, and then implementing those proposals are significant issues that would need to be confronted. A recent effort to privately contract the management of the municipal golf course failed to produce a serious proposal.

So until proven otherwise, a reduction in FTEs will result in a reduction in services. Where? Fewer police officers, close a fire station, eliminate summer concerts? Hard decisions.

The City has challenging times ahead. The use of partial and shaded truths will not contribute to the solution. Neither will self-promotion or pandering.

Lake Oswego resident Steve Dodds is a member of the Citizens Budget Committee and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.