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Letter to the Editor
After reading Commissioner Hall’s statement that the County had revised its plans for the Fairgrounds (Commons), I returned to the 2018 Commons Master Planning site to see what I might have missed in the decision-making process. I found the Fair Board’s Meeting Audio 5.10.18. Oh my!
I did not find a motion regarding a revised plan for the Commons. I did not find a statement directing the consultants to develop a plan that could be implemented using only revenue from the County room tax, as Hall claims. What I heard, instead, was a meeting largely focused on how to shut down public comment on the $15 million or so fiasco, and how to avoid being accountable to the public for money already spent and money to be spent. Some examples follow.
On one point, Fair Board member Geltner addressed a previous meeting held in Depoe Bay, claiming that things got out of hand when the public was allowed to comment, but no time limits were in place. I attended that meeting and the Board made it clear that each speaker would be given five minutes. Only one speaker exceeded that time limit. Most took much less time. Did Geltner think that things got out of hand because there was actually public comment?
Later, Commissioner Hall commented that there should be “no arguing over decisions already made. Shut this down. This is not a forum.” What decisions have already been made? The consultants plan says “draft”. The Commons Planning website states “The County is seeking your input on redevelopment of the County Commons”. The site also contains a Public Involvement Plan. Hall stated on June 7 that “after the last public meeting, we went back to the consultants with clear orders: come back with a plan that can be built and operated within the resources we have.” So, why “shut down” public involvement if it has actually been helpful in guiding the direction of the Board? Note: I have not found where the consultants were actually given “clear orders” as Hall claims. That may be the case, but I have not found it.
Later, Hall comments, “This has been going on so damn long.” and “It’s ridiculous.” I agree that it has been going on a long time. Time enough to consider other locations for the Fair and associated uses. Time to thoroughly consider what is really needed. Time to thoroughly and publicly consider funding options. Time to actually involve the community in developing a plan for the Fair and Commons, rather than trying to “shut down” public involvement.
That this process has gone on for years, at the cost of untold hundreds of thousands of dollars with still little of substance, is certainly not the fault of members of the public who became involved when invited to do so. Hall and others should not blame thoughtful members of the public for a process that the Board has chosen to continue for years at great cost with little substance.
The Board will meet again this Thursday at 6:00pm at the OSU Extension Service office. It appears that we may see the next incarnation of the Events Center proposal. I hope that the public will be treated respectfully as we consider the decisions and expenditures being made in our behalf. I hope the “Shut this down” attitude does not prevail.
Dear Commissioner Hall —
Your June 5 opinion piece in News Lincoln County raises some serious questions.
Most troubling is your statement: “This will cost local property taxpayers money. False. Every cent the county spends on construction and operations will come from the transient room tax.”
This is disingenuous at best, as substantial funding for the project — some $3 million — is expected to come from City of Newport property taxpayers, who unequivocally qualify as “local property taxpayers.” I urge you therefore to publish a correction to your misleading statement.
Six questions were asked by Gerry Barrett in April after meeting with you about this project (see Mr. Barrett’s attached News Lincoln County letter, https://www.newslincolncounty.com/?s=Barrett&searchsubmit= ). At least three of Mr. Barrett’s six questions remain loudly unanswered:
— If there is not enough money in the bank to pay for the project will the commissioners borrow the balance?
— If not, how will you finance the budget shortfall?
— Is there any risk that the citizens of Lincoln County will be asked to fund the construction phase or to fund the operational phase of the Commons if the room tax allocated to this project is insufficient?
These are valid questions that the public needs answers to, particularly given the fact that a large portion of Lincoln County citizens who are Newport property tax payers are already expected to fund the construction phase. Mr. Barrett’s breakdown of the numbers makes abundantly clear that this project cannot even be started without city taxpayers’ money, and that room tax revenues will not be nearly enough for operating and maintenance costs, to say nothing of the inevitable cost over-runs that always occur. Those room tax revenues upon which this entire project relies are themselves notoriously subject to the whims of climate, politics, stock market crashes, international trade wars, gas prices, and other dire effects on tourism. To expect this variable and unreliable source of revenue to pay for such a grandiose project is pie-in-the-sky economics.
Your June 5 article also states “People didn’t vote to support this. False. They voted in both 2007 and 2016 to dedicate room tax revenues for it, by a 60 percent margin each time. The 2016 measure was very specific: ‘The new tax revenue would be dedicated to increase support for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds… and also be available for operations of the facilities at that location.'”
This statement is also extremely misleading. We may indeed have voted to dedicate new tax revenue to “increase support for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds,” but we did NOT vote for a huge allocation of Newport property taxes as well as massive county debt to pay for an unnecessary new building and pavilion instead of repairing, improving, and maintaining current fairground structures. I urge you therefore to publish a correction to your false assertion that voters approved paying for a multi-million dollar project with taxpayers’ money.
I have personally seen far too many projects like this one either fail and go unfinished, or cost taxpayers inordinately far more than originally projected. All those failures began with the same kind of misleading and unrealistic claims and obfuscations apparent in your article and in the commissioners’ public statements.
Because voters never approved spending taxpayers’ funds for this project, no further action or funds should be committed to it before it is placed on the ballot again, this time with an honest, accurate statement of where all of its funding shall come from.
Because to this day we, the public, have not been fully informed about the true costs of the project, the commissioners should publish a thorough and above all honest accounting of all estimated costs, including estimated costs of associated infrastructure improvements such as water, sewer, electrical, plumbing, storm water, parking, increased law enforcement, etc. Such accounting should also include an honest and unexpurgated discussion of all alternative funding options and their potential financial liabilities for county taxpayers.
Carol Van Strum
Five Rivers, Oregon