Urban Renewal- Another Abuse Of Taxpayer Funds and Trust

Never give an urban renewal sucker an even break

Community Soapbox by John Williams

The Oregon City News, Feb 22, 2012
A $30 million scam right here in Oregon City? Who lost the big bucks? Who pulled it off? Bankers, private equity manipulators, junk bond purveyors? Is it hard to believe?
It’s true. If you paid property taxes in Oregon City in the last 20 years you were a victim of a “grand scam.” A scam called the Downtown/North End Urban Renewal Plan promising to make you and the city property tax richer.
Proponents will say, “Just give us some of the city general fund tax income today and in 20 years we will pay it back with a bigger tax base than ever before! We’ll give you new jobs, business and progress. It’s like free money!”
Want the facts? From 1992 to 2011, $10 million was diverted from taxes meant to pay for police, fire, parks, and senior center, etc. Nearly $10 million was drained from the state school fund, and the remaining $10 million came from a direct special levy tax paid by Oregon City property owners.
What did the taxpayers get for $30 million? In 20 years zero, nada, not one dime of new taxable values was created in downtown Oregon City’s urban renewal plan area by urban renewal expenditures. The only new tax-generating project in the urban renewal area is Home Depot. It was built without ANY urban renewal dollars!
Proponents will say, “But look we have a new $8 million City Hall, we paved Washington Street, 7th Street, McLoughlin Boulevard, did a streetscape on Main, rebuilt the historic Promenade rock wall, bought some land, built a parking lot and painted some downtown buildings, all good projects, right?”
Wrong! Those projects are exempt from property taxes never to pay back the $30 million, or produce a bigger tax base for the city. No new permanent jobs or new property values were created as promised by the experiment in “urban renewal.” The “scam” is in.
Were the projects good? Certainly paving roads can be good. Repairing a historic rock wall could be good. But using urban renewal money to build City Hall borders on “criminally fiscal negligence,” and any respectable professional urban renewal specialist will agree erecting public buildings with urban renewal dollars is oxymoronic.
Our former city manager insisted a new city hall would bring “new value” to the surrounding neighborhood. It did not, and it will not. Since 1998 taxable property can only increase 3 percent. There is no “halo” effect. New values come from new construction. Buying and remodeling the city hall building only subtracted the value of the building and land from the tax rolls by becoming “exempt.”
To add insult to injury, since 2006, a “consulting firm” has been paid more than $1 million for “good advice” on how to spend urban renewal tax money.
Here’s another way to judge urban renewal. During the same 20-year period, how does the increase in taxable value of Downtown Urban Renewal Plan compare to the rest of Oregon City?
Urban renewal area taxable values DOUBLED. Taxable values in the rest of Oregon City QUADRUPLED! Taxable values have increased twice as fast outside as within the urban renewal boundaries!
How did urban renewal backers snooker the voters and misappropriate $30 million? By ignoring the Oregon City charter and using the urban renewal financing mechanism. The charter requires voter approval of any new bonded indebtedness proposed by the City Commission, but, by oversight, the charter omits indebtedness undertaken by the Urban Renewal Commission.
Successive city commissions (aided by city staff) have turned over many capital improvements, building city hall and paving streets, etc., to the URC to avoid the required public vote. Why not? Why risk voters disfavor when we can use urban renewal taxes? That’s the scam.
As W.C. Fields advised his niece Gloria in a 1940s motion picture, “My dear, never give a sucker an even break.” He must have been a consultant to the Oregon City Urban Renewal Commission.


John Williams is a former mayor of Oregon City.

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Forensic accountant Tiffany Couch discovers more irregularities, bloated costs related to CRC finances

Podcast: Download (Duration: 47:39 — 54.5MB)

VANCOUVER, Wash. — At Bridging the Gaps 2, Oct. 8, Vancouver-based forensic accountant Tiffany Couch gave an update of her analysis of financial documents related to the Columbia River Crossing Bridge and Light Rail project since first bringing revelations about the CRC’s poor accounting practices during the first Bridging the Gaps conference in June.

Couch initially examined thousands of pages of electronic documents supplied by the CRC via a freedom of information request. She found that the CRC was unable to adequately account for how it spent $108 million in public funds between July 2005 and February 2011. Oddities included invoices totaling $15 million lacking vendor names and invoices worth $38 million that lacked codes to identify services rendered.

More recently, Couch has received and analyzed the CRC’s seemingly sweetheart contract with David Evans and Associates, the general contractor on the CRC project. Couch describes how the CRC’s original call for consultants in 2005 listed a budget of $20 million for the environmental phase of the project. The only firm to bid was David Evans and Associates, an engineering firm based in Portland, Ore.

In May 2005, the CRC signed a $50 million contract with David Evans to deliver a draft environmental impact statement for the Columbia River Crossing Bridge and Light Rail project. The contract included large mark-ups for overhead and an assortment of other fees on top of labor charges. For example, in one invoice, dated April 17, 2007, David Evans’ listed its labor cost as $91,536, but the invoice totaled $280,291 after the various mark-ups were applied. The CRC paid it.

Couch also discovered that until August 2009, David Evans routinely added a 4 percent fee to subcontractor billings, a practice not stipulated in its original contract. David Evans received over $1.4 million in income from these unapproved fees. The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) discovered the practice during an internal audit, dated Jan 26, 2010. However, rather than requiring David Evans to pay back the money received, the internal auditor advised that the contract be retroactively changed to allow for the markup.

Couch also describes how David Evans asked for an additional $40 million, without detailed explanation, to complete its contract. WSDOT not only agreed, but later approved another $10 million. In all, David Evans is scheduled to receive $105 for what was originally a $50 million contract.

Couch concludes her presentation saying that her investigation is ongoing and will continue as the CRC provides her with requested documents.

Credits
Video directed by Jordan Thompson
Video captured by LifePoint

 

If you have information you’d like to share anonymously, call the anonymous CRC tip hotline, 360-816-1426.
Or, if it’s okay to air your comments on COUV.COM, call our ‘permission to publish’ hotline, 360-816-1429.

This abuse of taxpayers by special beneficiaries of insider deals among Government officials and their crony friends has become notoriously “how we do business” in Oregon and Washington. Carefully think about how taxpayer’s are expected to fork over millions of dollars to these insiders who cannot, or will not, account for tens of millions of public funds they were given by local government “authorities”. Corruption, greed, or ??

Largest Recipient of CRC Funds Sues to Keep Financial Records Secret « Clark County Conservative

An interesting development in the ongoing “transparent and open” process of the Columbia River Crossing Project, responsible for so far swallowing up some $140 Million in “studies” for a new I-5 Bridge to run Portland’s Light Rail into Vancouver, wanted by taxpayers or not.

David Evans and Associates, so far the single largest recipient of funds from the CRC, accepting more than $30 Million so far, answered a notice from WashDOT over their intent to comply with a FOIA request for financial records with a lawsuit quietly filed in Thurston County to block release of their records on file with WashDOT here.

The records request was part of an ongoing private audit of the CRC finances funded by successful Vancouver businessman David Madore. Tiffany Couch, the forensic auditor hired by Mr. Madore says, “the request for the Evans financials was one of series of records requests she’s filed.”

 

She continued, “We have been asked to perform a review of how public money has been spent on the CRC project; starting from the bidding process when the project began in 2005 through present day expenditures.”

Also named in the lawsuit as defendant is Debbie Peterson who works for Ms. Couch and who filed the actual request with WashDOT.

In a comment left on facebook, David Madore said, “Nancy Boyd, director of the CRC uses words like transparency and accountability and then goes on to say that because state law does not force them to provide financial statements, that she will not provide them.”

This move begs the question, just what does David Evans & Associates have to fear from transparency in why they were paid over $30 Million of taxpayer monies?

It’s time this fiasco was brought to a screeching halt and our federal representatives from both states bring in federal investigators with prosecutions in mind for any wrongdoing.

If Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Portland or Occupy Vancouver really need a cause to protest, maybe they should be protesting the Columbia River Crossing and David Evans & Associates.

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This entry was posted on October 12, 2011 at 10:53 am and is filed under 3rd Congressional District, Clark County Politics, Oregon Politics, Vancouver, Washington State. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

The recipient of $30 million of taxpayer money is refuses to show what they provided in exchange for tens of millions? Not only reluctant, but now trying to HIDE it from taxpayers. You see, it appears very little actual “work” has been exchanged for the $30 million in taxpayer funds “authorized” and spent by our government employees to enrich this company. I’m wondering how much of that money was funneled back into campaign financing for those politicians who have been signing the checks? Clearly, the company doesn’t want any open and transparent scrutiny! If there was something, anything, to show for the millions spent, none of this would be an issue. It’s time to do a forensic audit- to parrot a favorite refrain.. this is “unsustainable”..

Something smells rotten… very rotten.

Clackamas County Taxpayers vs. County “Government”

From remarks forwarded to me by a concerned Clackamas County Citizen:

Have you wondered how Clackamas County was taken over by “Big Government Advocates”,  Lynn Peterson, Ann LIninger, Jim Bernard, Jamie Damon & Charlotte Lehan?  

Look look at the members who make up the Clackamas “Business Alliance“.

A disinterested 3rd party cannot help but conclude this alliance is nothing more than a self serving scheme designed to block public scrutiny or influence over enormous taxpayer funded spending decisions. This “Alliance” of mostly government and private benefactors has lined heir pockets with enormous taxpayer funded wealth.  They produced a voter’s pamphlet statement supporting a contrived ballot measure solely intended to defeat the citizen’s measure.  A contrivance so unethical and misleading that a judge threw out the ballot title they wrote.  These are our “representatives”?

They have nothing to offer Clackamas County.. What they are is an extension of the Portland planning regime that preys on uninformed, unwitting, uninvolved citizens.. in a system that they’ve learned to manipulate to line the pockets of their benefactors and to grow wealth siphoning, sprawling government beast.

Clackamas County has no integrity being a contributing member to this racket.  I mean, take a look at the “members, sponsors, and director”.  Is there the possibility/ probability of “insider” corruption?  Don’t be stupid.

http://www.ccba.biz/1201.html   Premium sponsors

http://www.ccba.biz/22187.html   Board of Directors

It’s essentially all government and benefactors who have grown fat at the trough.. and making millions off the Portland/TriMet/Metro agenda. All dues paying members (using funds which originate from the taxpayer).  Once again, taxpayer money being used against taxpayers to  grow an ever growing assault on the private sector, while enriching a very narrow class of “insiders”. 

Sampling:

3J Consulting, Inc 
Bank of Lake Oswego
Bernards Garage, Inc      Commissioner Bernard
City of Happy Valley
City of Milwaukie
City of Wilsonville
Clackamas Community College
Clackamas County
David Evans and Associates, Inc         Along with every other boondoggle these Arch/Engineers have been paid $80 million to date for CRC planning 
Davis Wright Tremaine                      
General Growth Properties, LLC – Clackamas Town Center   recipeints of millions in Urban Renewal tax dollars
Group MacKenzie            SoWa property owner, big vender for Portland Development
HM3 Ethanol, Inc
Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce
Metropolitan Land Group
North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce
Oregon City School District
Oregon Iron Works, Inc        Streetcar manufacturer
Portland General Electric
STIVEN Planning and Development Services, LLC
Tri-County Investments, LLC
Worksource Oregon Employment Department

Look at the list of contributors who wish to silence the voice of Clackamas Taxpayers .. Do you see a pattern?  These organizations and people want to control the county commissioners.. and bypass the taxpayer.  It’s muchc easier to buy off a commissioner. 

These are the interests that want we citizens to shut up.. and want to deny us our opportunity to actually vote on the issue.

TriMet’s New Transit Bridge to the Last Century | Our Politicians Prove They’re Economic Dunces

PortlandTriMetMAX.serendipityThumb TriMet’s New Transit Bridge to the Last Century

On June 30 TriMet formally began construction on the new Willamette River Bridge for the Portland-Milwaukie light rail (PMLR) line. The bridge will be part of a 7.3-mile rail spur running from the Portland State University campus to a parking garage just south of Milwaukie on McLoughlin Boulevard. At a construction cost of more than $205 million per mile, this will be the most expensive transit project in Oregon history.

During the ground-breaking ceremony, economically illiterate politicians raved about how this project would “make Portland more competitive” (Portland Mayor Sam Adams), “reduce congestion on McLoughlin Boulevard” (Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Gail Achterman), and “show the rest of the country that this is not just spending, but a bridge to the future” (Congressman Kurt Schrader).

Any competent group of high school sophomores would know how silly these claims are. Building another rail line at a cost of $1.5 billion will make Portland less competitive than it would be otherwise, because the region has to allocate $750 million in “local funds” to match federal grants. All of that money could be spent on other more useful projects (like replacing the unsafe Sellwood Bridge) if light rail wasn’t constantly crowding them out.

Light rail has never reduced traffic congestion in the region and never will because it carries too few people. And contrary to the notion popularized by TriMet, the main corridor for this line – McLoughlin Boulevard – is not very congested, even at peak periods; it easily could be used for express bus service, which would travel at double the speed of light rail.

Finally, rail transit is not the future of cities. Passenger rail travel peaked in the Portland region and most other cities 100 years ago, and it will never come back due to the safety, speed and convenience of private auto travel.

Despite the vast expense, few people will ever benefit from Milwaukie light rail. TriMet estimates that in the opening year of 2015, the line will carry an average of 13,000 weekday “boardings.” Of those, 4,500 will be former bus rides diverted to light rail. Since each rider typically makes two “boardings” per day, the number of actual new transit customers will be around 4,250. So in construction costs alone, we will spend more than $352,941 per new rider.

I suspect that if we could locate these hoped-for riders and ask them how they’d really prefer to spend the taxpayer gift of $353,000, relatively few would choose a slow train to Portland.

The cost-per-mile numbers are staggering when compared with transit projects elsewhere. In 2002 Metro estimated that the same Milwaukie light rail project utilizing the Hawthorne Bridge would cost only $72 million per mile. The North Portland MAX line was built for $60 million per mile.

Express bus service is especially attractive in comparison. The Eugene Bus Rapid Transit line, known locally as the “Emerald Express,” cost $6 million per mile. The Los Angeles Rapid Bus system was implemented for a mere $335,000 per mile.

Because the LA Rapid Bus service is so economical, it has been implemented on 369 miles of routes in less than a decade. The service utilizes existing arterials and provides faster travel times than light rail by limiting passenger stops to no more than one per mile.

TriMet could have implemented a rapid-bus option on McLoughlin Boulevard years ago if good service was actually a priority, but it isn’t. In fact, during the past two years TriMet bus service has been cut by 14%, rail service by 10%, and the most recent new rail line – the Green Line to Clackamas Town Center – is operating 33% below planned-for levels. At certain times of the day, service is now down to one train per hour on the Green Line.

How many average taxpayers would vote to spend $1.5 billion on a slow train? We already know the answer. In both 1996 and 1998, the North/South light rail project to Milwaukie was on the ballot, and it was voted down each time. But those results clearly don’t matter to the seven members of the TriMet board, who are all appointed by the governor. They never have to answer directly to voters.

TriMet is taking a huge gamble with this project. The formal grant application for the $750 million in federal money has not even been submitted to the Federal Transit Agency; and local matching funds promised by Portland, Milwaukie and Clackamas County don’t exist. TriMet is building a transit-only bridge (no cars or trucks will be allowed) on pure speculation that more than a billion dollars will be forthcoming to finish the deal.

That speculation may prove fatal. Earlier this week the Oregon legislature revoked approval for $39 million in bond funding for another “iconic” boondoggle, the so-called Oregon Sustainability Center. Local proponents were shocked that the funding was pulled; they had assumed for years that the necessary tax subsidies for their green fantasy would be approved, and they were wrong.

TriMet could be building a bridge to nowhere. If it dies in mid-construction, it would be a fitting monument to the arrogance of the TriMet board.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Freshmen Hi School students are more than capable of doing the math on this one.. what an abuse. Beyond any rational way of thinking, this light rail is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. But it does get a nice “sound bite”.. as Oregon’s Democratic party once again prove their utter ignorance of economics.. or their contempt for the taxpayer. Well, ok.. both.