Below is an opinion piece about the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District that I submitted to the Statesman Journal a month ago. I never heard back from the editorial board one way or the other, which in itself is a sad commentary on how far Salem's so-called "paper of record" has fallen.
The Statesman Journal has published exactly nothing about this subject, even though it is a highly controversial issue that's consumed a lot of City Council time, and is of considerable concern to residents of the Creekside area, along with hundreds of lot owners in south Salem who would be required to fork out thousands of dollars when they develop their property to pay for Lone Oak Road improvements -- even if they rarely, if ever, would use the road.
One would think that since the Statesman Journal hasn't seen fit to devote any reporting resources to this issue, they'd be pleased to publish a written-for-free opinion piece. But these days one would think isn't a good guide to figuring out what the newspaper would do, given that one would think a local paper would care about reporting important local news.
Think again. Here's my opinion piece.
Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District is a bad idea
Lone Oak Road has gotten a lot of attention from the City Council lately.
First the Council voted to form a Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District. This would assess property owners in south Salem between $2,464 and $9,212 when a lot was developed. That money would pay for northern and southern extensions of the road, the size of the assessment being based on how close the lot is to Lone Oak Road.
The South Gateway Neighborhood Association (SGNA) then asked the City Council to reconsider that vote.
Their letter pointed out that (1) SGNA wasn’t given advance notice about the Reimbursement District proposal; (2) the District funding plan assumes the Creekside Golf Course will be converted to a subdivision even though this is an undecided legal issue; (3) City staff didn’t adequately inform councilors about the Creekside developer’s obligation to build the northern extension of Lone Oak Road.
The Council then voted to reconsider its approval of the District. On March 26, a reconsideration hearing at which most of those who testified were opposed to the District resulted in a decision being delayed until the May 14 Council meeting.
Property owners who live quite a ways from Lone Oak Road complained that they’d be required to pay into the District even though they’d rarely, if ever, use the road.
In short, it’s a fine mess the City of Salem has gotten itself into.
At the reconsideration hearing, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez revealed his role in saddling the public with the cost of completing Lone Oak Road. Fernandez admitted that before entering into a 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Creekside developer in which the City of Salem assumed responsibility for building the Jory Creek bridge, he failed to get a estimate from his own engineers about how much the bridge would cost.
So the MOU contains the developer’s figure of $750,000 for the bridge, while the Reimbursement District proposal budgets $5.6 million. This roughly $5 million mistake means that money for the bridge would have to come from a future Streets and Bridges bond, because the District wouldn’t be able to raise $5.6 million.
Thus the plan is for property tax payers throughout Salem to pay for the Jory Creek bridge, then the City would be partially reimbursed by the District. This makes little sense, since property owners in south Salem would be reimbursing property owners in all of Salem. A better way is to simply include the northern extension of Lone Oak Road as part of a Streets and Bridges bond.
Building the southern road extension also doesn’t require a Reimbursement District.
Two subdivisions planned for that area total 120 lots, and their developers should foot the bill directly for the Lone Oak Road improvements. Why should the City collect about $1.1 million from District assessments on those lots, then reimburse the developers for the money they’d just paid into the District?
Bottom line: the Reimbursement District isn’t needed, and the City Council should kill this bad idea.
I've been blogging about the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District since it first became a hot issue. Here's my previous posts on this subject:
City Council poised to make public pay for improvements, not Larry Tokarski
Why did Larry Tokarski start, then stop, construction of Lone Oak Road?
Larry Tokarski leaves the public with a $7.5 million development bill
Neighborhood association asks City Council to reconsider Lone Oak Road decision
Salem City Council reconsiders making public pay for Lone Oak Road improvements
Is Larry Tokarski the developer of Creekside?
Salem Weekly delves into messy history of Creekside development
Statesman Journal reporter criticizes Salem Weekly for story his paper didn't cover
City staff ignore neighborhood association questions about Creekside development
City Council still confused about Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District
City Council poised to postpone vote on Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District again
Ever since then-CEO Sarah Bentley was called onto the carpet at Gannett HQ in the 1990s, and chewed out for the S/J's endorsement of Mike Swaim for mayor, the S/J has been utterly servile to the slightest wishes of wealthy developers and of the real estate business in general.
What followed was a reign of error, as the S/J attacked liveability activists unmercifully and untruthfully for years.
It's a Gannett paper; ethics are unheard of there. For a long, detailed look behind the veil of mendacity, get a copy of publisher Richard McCord's book "The Chain Gang," and see what S/J executives really think of their readers, and of the city they supposedly serve.
Posted by: Jack Holloway | May 07, 2018 at 07:17 AM
Brian, I don't think there will be another Streets and Bridges bond measure anytime soon. Salem taxpayers are going to experience severe sticker shock after the school bond measure passes and that big ticket is added to the cost of the new police station and library retrofit. How do you proposed to pay for this without a Streets and Bridges bond measure?
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | May 07, 2018 at 06:20 PM
Jim, it is City officials who keep talking about paying for the bridge over Jory Creek through a Streets and Bridges bond, not me. Public Works Director Peter Fernandez has said several times that there wouldn't be enough money in a Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District to pay for the bridge, so money for it would have to come from a future Streets and Bridges bond.
I recall that Fernandez also said that the bond would repay the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District fund for whatever money the fund was able to contribute to the Lone Oak Road improvements. So it seems to make a lot more sense to ditch the whole idea of the Reimbursement District, since it won't be able to pay for the most expensive part of the Lone Oak Road improvements, the bridge over Jory Creek.
Of course, it would be even better if the City Council required Tokarski to pay for the Lone Oak Road improvements, the northern portion at least. This would require more councilors to vote No on the District that just Sally Cook and Cara Kaser. Hopefully the other progressives on the Council will join them as No votes a week from today,
Posted by: Brian Hines | May 07, 2018 at 08:31 PM
Hmmm still no reporting on this issue from the Statesman Journal?
I know they are aware of it but I guess their reporters only have time to make snotty meta-comments about other's coverage of this issue to their buddies on twitter: http://hinessight.blogs.com/salempoliticalsnark/2018/03/statesman-journal-reporter-criticizes-salem-weekly-for-story-his-paper-didnt-cover.html
Posted by: Salemander | May 09, 2018 at 02:55 PM