As you think about how to vote on the proposed bond issue, ask yourself, if you are to give the city additional money now, are new streets the greatest need? Some relevant points:
Despite consistently stating that public safety is the number one concern, and underfunded, their actions don't support it. Over the past 10 years they have created 10 new programs without new funding, often using funds that would otherwise be available for essential police, fire and street needs. And just a year ago the city unexpectedly received $1 million in past franchise fees into the general fund. After wisely putting half into reserves, the city disbursed the other half in 10 different directions, with only $14,000 directed to public safety.
One drain on finances that is not discussed came from Bend consistently challenging the state rules on its urban growth boundary expansion. It started by unrealistically including all of Juniper Ridge and almost no private property. With that false start, it's all ready taken five years and cost $5 million, with another two years and $2 million to go. (Redmond worked closely with the state and county and was finished in one year for $1 million). Do you think this was a wise use of money, or should this money have been available for public safety and streets?
It's impossible to overlook the expensive Juniper Ridge fiasco. Everyone is familiar with the $2.5 million dollar payoff to the selected developer. Additionally, its urban renewal district takes directly from the city tax rate, thereby reducing money available for essential services. Did you know that Lowes, the Wal-Mart site and other businesses are in the district and therefore pay nothing for police, fire, roads, and other general expenses of the city? Or that the project has already borrowed $9 million? Or that the city plans to borrow $20 million more for the project, without a vote of citizens? Do you think land speculation is a proper city function?
Little more can be said of the mishandling of the transit system, paying for it by taking from the fund that finances police and fire and road maintenance. (Only one other comparable city in Oregon finances its transit system from the city general fund as Bend does.) Much has been made of the system's transfer to the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, but the city still must fund it for $1 million annually for five years, and there is no guarantee of how it will be financed after that. It may stay in the city's lap.
Another program taking substantial money from public safety and streets is the agreement regarding accessibility standards. While a legitimate program is necessary, who agreed to the extravagant one we are undertaking? It will likely cost over $20 million. I know of no other city that has such an onerous burden. And don't forget the decisions to spend nearly $5 million to buy the old Bulletin site, or the arrogant method taking over Juniper Utilities that cost in excess of $10 million? Who can defend these decisions that have wasted so much money? A vote for the bond essentially accepts these actions and expenditures as priority.
All these fiascos create a climate of entitlement that carries over into small, but significant, unethical acts. One example, the planning department knowingly violated city code and state regulations to allow one organization to double in size. Neighbors had to go to the Land Use Board of Appeals, which quickly ruled that the city was wrong. The city refused to address the costs incurred by neighbors, despite the city knowing in advance their action was illegal. The city refuses to address such errant behavior, empowering future improper acts. Why does the city accept this behavior? How pervasive is it?
How do these relate to the present request for a $30 million bond issue? Each of these examples shows a degree of mismanagement on the part of the city. So too does the city, quickly shifting from a consistent emphasis on getting more funds for police and fire, to promoting new street construction. If police and fire are as underfunded as the city has maintained for several years, why ask the public to fund a less important use instead, i.e. street construction (but no maintenance)? The proposed bond issue would raise over $2 million annually for 20-plus years. But the greatest need is for public safety, not for a list of road projects cobbled together to appeal to various neighborhoods. In fact, almost half the money is for four new roundabouts scattered around town! Do you want to be paying for a few traffic circles for 20 years? And unless the Reed Market Road project is under budget, (when did the city last do that?) not all those neighborhood traffic circles can be built.
The general fund and public safety problems could be nearly solved with $2 million annually. Until the city addresses past mistakes and determines its priorities, VOTE NO!
Allan Bruckner is a former mayor of Bend.