In her pre-Thanksgiving column, 'It's getting hard to afford to live here,' Patricia Sweet gives a very clear description of the discomfort many citizens are feeling about the city's finances in the face of an uncertain economic climate. I think we're all feeling pinched by the recession, but is it really worse in Lake Oswego? I checked the city's website and found some interesting information.

Certainly Lake Oswego's sewer and water bills are higher than the surrounding communities, except Wilsonville and Portland. These three cities have each just undertaken major structural improvements to their aging water and sewer systems, which eventually our neighbors will have to do as well. Residents are already exercising control over their bills by reducing water usage, and the city is assisting them by providing free water audits, free water saving devices and utility assistance to those in need, to help residents pay for these essential services.

What about property taxes? Lake Oswego's property tax rates are actually some of the lowest in the area (No. 8 out of 12 towns), are lower now than they were in 2000, and have remained unchanged since 2004. Under Measure 50, taxes are allowed to rise 3 percent per year, as long as assessed values are below market values, for all municipalities. We have more homes priced under $300,000 than West Linn or Tualatin, making Lake Oswego a competitive place for attainable housing.

What do our property taxes buy us? Interestingly, only about 35 percent of property taxes go to the city, which uses them to provide essential services like police, fire, library, parks and the adult community center, which provides services for aging residents. The rest of our property taxes go to fund regional services and to pay back local bonds that citizens have voted for, such as parks and school construction.

Our bonded indebtedness is actually very low, and totally different than what we hear about in regards to Greece, Italy and bankrupt California towns. Oregon law limits the amount of general obligation bonds cities can issue to 3 percent of real market value of all taxable property within city limits. Lake Oswego's debt is only a fraction of that, at .23 percent. We haven't had to borrow a lot of money because we have a capital improvements plan which budgets for purchases like a $1 million fire engine by putting away a portion of the cost each year. City government not only lives within its means, but has been able to build a $20 million general fund reserve to protect us in case of emergency. This sound fiscal management has netted Lake Oswego the highest bond rating available, which enabled the city to refinance an outstanding parks bond and save $560,000.

In uncertain times such as these, I think Lake Oswego is a pretty secure place to be. Stable property tax rates, a Triple A bond rating, large cash reserves and very low debt are evidence of the city's prudent fiscal management. In tough economic times, it's tempting to think it's worse where you are, but that is not true here in Lake Oswego. Times are tough for everyone. We have a strong community and well-managed government. That makes this a good place to weather a recession.

Jan Castle, Lake Oswego, is a member of Keep Lake Oswego Great PAC.


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