There has been a lot of talk about the recent proposed water/sewer fee increases in Gladstone. Yes, it is true we have some very old pipes in the ground that have been neglected for years. Yes, we will need to start addressing that issue. The city council has that part right. In my opinion, though, they are asking us to trust them while they haven't been honest, and that same body has mismanaged our infrastructure and money for decades, leading to where we are now.
Let's look at the numbers and facts. First, we have had a number of increases over the last few years. In 2015 a family using Tri-City facility paid $43 per month at a minimum. Now we pay $68. That's an increase of just over 57%. Now the city wants to increase our bills even more.
The proposal they voiced at the Oct. 8 city council meeting was a 25.9% increase starting in January 2020, followed by a 26% increase in January 2021. This is on top of the 2-5% yearly increase for inflation. That totals a potential increase of an additional 61.9% ($51) per month from January 2020 to January 2021. That would make a 275% increase from January 2015 to January 2021, from $43 per month to $120.
There are some who seem happy to pay more to "fix" the issues the city has neglected for years. The issue is this increase fixes these issues over the next 100 years!
At the Oct. 8 meeting a number of residents gave public testimony about these increases and the impacts on residents, including myself. The vast majority of the council looked very uninterested in what the people of Gladstone had to say and were more preoccupied with the clock counting down our allowed three minutes to speak. This better-than-thou attitude continued weeks later in the form of a social media post on the Nextdoor platform from Matt Tracy, a City Council member. The community was discussing these proposed tax increases and Tracy posted: "The Dunning-Kruger effect is alive and well in Gladstone!" This translates to "...a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability...the cognitive bias of illusory superiority results from an internal illusion in people of low ability and from an external misperception in people of high ability..."
After the public testimony, some of what the residents said was almost mocked, as many of the council affirmed that they knew best. When Councilor Linda Neace proposed allowing the people to vote on this in the form of a bond, it was quickly dismissed by the other councilors. They didn't believe the people would support it, even though Gladstone has a history of supporting issues they deem essential, such as the huge school bond in 2006 and the police and fire department levy just last year. Councilors also commented that the city of Sandy raised their water/sewer rates by 97%. While that statement is factual, they neglected to paint the entire picture by mentioning that the average bill in Sandy post-increase is $40-$50 per month.
This misdirection — and in some cases, inaccuracy — is further demonstrated in a recent survey the city distributed. For example, when listing Oregon City's bill rate, they neglected to mention that it includes a pavement-maintenance fee and a public-safety fee. They also used an example of 6 water units to equate to Gladstone's minimum charge, overinflating Oregon City's rate even more. Without knowing this information, the survey compares apples to oranges.
Earning trust requires honesty. Manipulating the numbers to make it an easier sell is something we expect from car salespeople, not our governing body. When you twist facts for propaganda to justify your unpopular choices, you lose integrity and diminish the oath of public office.
Gladstone already pays more in property taxes than almost any other city. At over $20 per assessed $1,000, we are higher than Lake Oswego, West Linn, Happy Valley and parts of Portland. This has led to a severe livability burden for Gladstone residents. We all want infrastructure that works, and we understand that might mean paying out more money. This proposed increase doesn't fix any of the issues now; it does, however, create an even larger financial burden on the residents. It just seems like one of so many other ways local government has figured out how to reach deeper into our pocket so they can continue to spend unrestrained.
Bill Osburn is a resident of Gladstone who led successful recall campaigns against two members of City Council in 2017.
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