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Citizens help fund independent LOTWP review

As a ratepayer in Lake Oswego, thank you to the private citizens who are taking on the funding of a $5,000 independent CPA review of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership’s impact on all ratepayers. by: SUBMITTED - Bowerman

Ratepayers want to have an analysis to confirm what will happen to our water bills given project cost nearly doubling since 2007. Admittedly, as city councilor, I did not anticipate that given the opportunity to vote on an independent review that could have been routinely signed off on by the city manager, the council would vote it down 4-3 (particularly following a 7-0 vote last week to investigate having a cost-benefit study done).

Now is the time for a review of this $254 million project, as it moves from planning to implementation. On the council’s agenda last week, LOTWP items for approval totaled $18.7 million, committing fully to implement the project as planned. To date, about $46 million has been spent. Certainly a public review is appropriate, particularly of future water rates.

The council postponed LOTWP votes for two weeks — until March 5 — for time to read hundreds of pages that reached us just days before, including West Linn’s 40 contingencies for permit approvals to expand the water treatment plant and dig for pipelines through residential and business areas.

This citizen-funded analysis is narrowly focused. These citizens want to provide further clarity to the council within the two-week postponement so the council can make more informed decisions. The analysis will look at current water rates for understanding where those increases were spent, and then at future water fees to project what rates are necessary to pay for LOTWP as currently planned.

Why not a review that’s larger in scope? I would fully support an independent comprehensive audit if LOTWP were on hold to allow time for the audit to be done — especially because many unknowns could also be resolved including WaterWatch litigation and the potential for a LUBA appeal from West Linn. But for now, the council is scheduled to vote March 5 on contracts that commit millions of implementation dollars beyond planning.

My expectations? Clarity and light, yes, but there is no assumption of errors having been made. It is simply good oversight to have an outside accountant look toward the fiscal stewardship that the city council should bring.

As former vice chairman of the city’s budget committee wrote, “There is a 5 year rate projection given to the budget committee but the details supporting it were not provided and effectively the council has been voting on rates annually based on the latest project update, not a committed amortization schedule on the repayment of a firm fixed price bid.”

Back in September 2012, I wrote a “citizen’s view” column stating that planned rate increases will mount for several more years and then remain at the same high level until 2038, when project debt is retired. I further pointed out that citizens never had a chance to vote and commit to LOTWP on these terms. Thus, it was not a surprise that citizens expected this focused review be taken in the timeframe allowed.

Thanks to caring citizens, during this pause before next Tuesday’s considerations on the most costly capital project in our history, you have taken on unusual responsibility for giving the council further information to review and assess. Thank you.

Karen Bowerman is a member of the Lake Oswego City Council.



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