Friday, January 23, 2009

Hey Ma, Are We Bankrupt Yet?

If The Bulletin plays the story on its front page, it must be official: Bend is broke.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2009 at 11:44 AM

If The Bulletin plays the story on its front page, it must be official: Bend is broke.

Well, just about. The paper reports this morning that the heads of city departments told the city council yesterday that they've slashed spending as deeply as they can.

"There's no fluff left in our budget," the story quotes Community Development Director Mel Oberst as saying. "We've eliminated all our overtime, and as a result of [reduced revenues from] our service level, we've spent down all our remaining reserves."

Later in the story, Finance Director Sonia Andrews says that if the city doesn't find some new revenue sources it will be running a $4 million to $9 million deficit by 2013.

And here's what may be the most interesting part: According to The Bulletin, Andrews said the city "started dipping into its reserve funds, which are used to provide a cushion for emergency situations, years before the economy took a major downturn. As a result, she said, many departments don't have much wiggle room left."

That has a lot of people muttering (or screaming) "WTF???" including downtown merchant and blogger Duncan McGeary. "Methinks they don't understand the words 'reserve' and 'emergency,' he writes.

"I predict that the city council will let Bend go bankrupt before they raise fees," McGeary continues. "Indeed, I predict they'll delay or lower fees. I predict they'll keep pushing Juniper Ridge. I predict they'll keep the Bend buses rolling. I predict I'll have to replace my shock absorbers [because there's no money to fix potholes] and get another lock on my door [because there's no money to hire enough cops]."

While The Eye agrees with McGeary that the city has displayed fiscal irresponsibility of eye-popping magnitude, we don't think all its financial ills can be blamed on Juniper Ridge and Bend Area Transit, or even on the recent real estate bubble and subsequent bust. The root of the sickness is that the Good Old Boys who run the show here and the politicians they control have put all their eggs in the basket of GROWTH, GROWTH, GROWTH for the past 20 years instead of developing a balanced and sustainable economy with a solid base of living-wage jobs, and when the basket of growth fell all the eggs broke.

So what's the new city council majority going to do now? Our guess is that they will follow the advice of the GOBs and prescribe more GROWTH, GROWTH, GROWTH as the cure. And McGeary's right: They will sacrifice essential city services before even thinking about (horrors!) increasing fees on builders and developers.

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