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Council needs to change vote and fix our streets

Once upon a time ... oh, wrong thing but then again maybe not.

Once upon a time the city council made street maintenance a priority and voted to spend $784,000 on additional street maintenance in the fiscal year 2013-14 and the citizens were happy. But then things changed.

On Oct. 22, our city council voted 4-2 (Karen Bowerman and Lauren Hughes properly dissenting with the mayor absent) to replace street light bulbs with LEDs and there went our street money. Exactly how did this happen? Let’s dissect it.

Earlier this year during the budget process, $784,000 was added to the budget for street maintenance. The public works director, Guy Graham, was asked in public session if the money could be spent in the fiscal year and gave a hearty “yes.” And the citizens were happy.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8 at a citizens budget committee meeting, Mr. Graham announced to the surprise of the committee that the additional street money could not be spent this year without hiring three more “project managers.” This seems to be a direct contradiction to what the CBC was told in the budget process earlier this year.

Then, at the city council meeting on Oct. 22, a “streetlight proposal” is brought forward to city council to replace our streetlights’ bulbs with LEDs. The proposal was shaped as two phases with the first phase having a payback of four years and the second 10 years.

The memo described the project and how the city would piggyback on the city of Portland’s purchasing power. It talked about two phases. (In it) was a statement that funds for this project would come from “unused street maintenance money” that is unused money from this year’s street fund. And everyone lived happily thereafter. Not quite. Let’s analyze this.

The city council included street maintenance as one of its five priorities for 2013. The CBC appropriated the money for street improvement spring 2013 and city council approved the budget in June 2013.

Are we to believe that public works: (a) did not know in May 2013 that additional project managers would be needed to spend the street maintenance money; and (b) was not at all aware of the potential of the street light project in May 2013? Is this an example of how city staff makes an end run around council priorities and the approved budget to do what they want? It would certainly appear that way.

The city does not need three new employees to complete the street maintenance work; there are alternative methods such as contractors. The city does not need a “feel good” LED project with a long payback; our funds are too precious. Projects like this need a payback more like four years not seven-plus (combined payback for both phases).

The city council needs to revisit this decision and tell public works to be consistent with our council priorities: Fix our streets — none of this “bait and switch.” Public works, you made the commitment to do it in a public meeting, now do it. Councilors Jon Gustafson, Jeff Gudman, Donna Jordan and Skip O’Neill need to change their votes and fix our streets.

Gerry Good, Lake Oswego, is a citizen member of the city’s budget committee.

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