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.
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