HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany debt: Elections might have helped

Written February 6th, 2013 by
Campaign signs in favor of the proposal to require voter approval of new city debt: Ten years too late?

Campaign signs in favor of the proposal to require voter approval of new city debt: Ten years too late?

(See the response at the bottom.)One of of the initiatives up for an Albany city election on March 12 would require voter approval of new city debt. Disregarding for the moment any problems with the wording of the proposal, it is tempting to think that if such a measure had been in effect years ago, we might hear less grumbling about Albany water and sewer rates, which are relatively high and rising just about every year.

In part the rates are driven by the need to make payments on about $100 million the city borrowed in the last 10 years — $40 million to build a new water plant on the Santiam River and about $60 million to finance expansion of the wastewater treatment plant on the Willamette. The borrowing in those cases was authorized by the city council. No election was required because property taxes were not being pledged to pay off the loans. Instead, the plan was to make the loan payments largely from utility rates. And that has called for almost annual increases in the price of sewer service or water, or both.

Each time this comes up, the council agonizes and sometimes trims a scheduled increase, or even puts it off for a year. But every summer there are complaints that people have to let their lawns go brown because their combined monthly water and sewer bill in Albany is so high. If those big loans had been taken out with the consent and approval of the voters, do you think there would be fewer complaints? I don’t know, but if an election had been held, you can bet that the implication of these loans for the future prices of sewer and water would have been more thoroughly explored. Instead, without the public involvement that elections entail, the only thing most people got were vague statements in the paper that the loans would have to be repaid from rates.

Elections also might have led to sharper public questioning of exactly why the projects were necessary, and who knows what insights or greater public understanding that would have brought. In retrospect, it might have been helpful all around to have this now-proposed debt election requirement in effect 10 years ago. (hh)

From Ray Kopczynski:

“…but if an election had been held, you can bet that the implication of these loans for the future prices of sewer and water would have been more thoroughly explored.”

I’ll bite.  Since Albany has an incredibly high rating nationally for transparency, exactly how more open could the process be & have been??  You have seen how much the public wants to participate.  The public has access to the exact same documents the councilors get — at virtually the exact same time — and they are highly encouraged to get involved by contacting their individual councilor and/or the professional city staff to get additional information they may desire.

 “…the only thing most people got were vague statements in the paper that the loans would have to be repaid from rates.”

“…vague statements…”  Seriously?  How would could it be explained more easily & concisely?  As I recall, the whole issue was, has been, and is constantly reported in the paper — over and above all of the public access to the information we use.

 “Elections also might have led to sharper public questioning of exactly why the projects were necessary, and who knows what insights or greater public understanding that would have brought.”

While that may (or may not) be true, it is a sad commentary to think/envision that it may take an “election” to get folks off their butt to get involved…and even then, most of the time, the turnout is quite dismal to say the least.


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