Milwaukie: Clackamas County park negotiations 'disingenuous'
A park redevelopment contract between Clackamas County and Milwaukie is still being negotiated as Mayor Mark Gamba says he disagrees with several terms the county says they've included to safeguard their assets in case Milwaukie leaves the district.
Since the redevelopment of Milwaukie Bay Park was proposed in 2017 the city and county have been unable to agree on contractual terms, with the most recent delay occuring on July 6 when Commissioner Paul Savas suggested updating the contract to ensure that the laborious negotiations were not souring the county's relationship with Milwaukie and that the county would be at no risk of losing assets or funds if Milwaukie were to withdraw from the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District like Happy Valley did in 2017.
Upon receiving the updated contract, Gamba deemed many of the added terms to be unnecessary, which he said made him skeptical of Savas' intentions.
"We are feeling like they — or Paul — is throwing up more roadblocks than the project warrants and is being disingenuous with his motivations," Gamba told Pamplin Media Group. "There's no good reason for him to try and make it impossible to build Milwaukie Bay Park... It's a park that benefits the whole district. So then that begs the question of why is he making it impossible to do?"
Reached for comment, Savas said he stands by everything he has said publicly about the matter thus far, and does not wish to engage in a dialogue with Gamba through the local newspaper.
"I will keep my comments professional and diplomatic and I will continue to work in good faith and with the best interest of the county in mind," Savas said. "I'm not going to get into a negative back-and-forth; it's not what I do."
When Happy Valley withdrew from the district to become its own parks and recreation provider, their settlement allowed them to walk away with several assets as well as $14.3 million which was directly attributable to system development charges (SDCs) collected within Happy Valley. Those SDCs were supposed to fund construction projects, but Happy Valley was frustrated that those projects were taking a long time to be completed, influencing their decision to leave.
Savas said at the July 6 meeting that this left the county in a "vulnerable financial position" and he did not want the county to pour funding into the Milwaukie Bay project without guaranteeing it is protected if the city walks away.
"When do we tap the brakes if our partner is not willing to move forward with a (contract)? When do we tap the brakes? How much money do we spend?" he said. "We have been trying to work in good faith, and I really believe that if both sides would work in good faith, we we can settle this and get these arrangements and these agreements underway. I am here working under good faith openly and honestly."
Gamba is not so sure, however. He said the updated contract included "ridiculous" terms that had "nothing to do" with the park project itself and everything to do with the Happy Valley incident. He continued to express dissatisfaction with Savas, saying this is "not how you treat a working partner" that has "always engaged in good faith," and even speculated that Savas may want Milwaukie out of the district.
"We are in the process of redlining their ridiculous (contract) and sending it back to them. But, you know, I honestly think that at least Paul doesn't want us in the district anymore," Gamba said, adding that he suspects a reason could be that Savas wants to take roughly $3 million in SDCs that are technically for project redevelopment within Milwaukie and instead wants to use them to fund construction projects outside of Milwaukie.
These SDCs were originally collected from unincorporated zones that then became Milwaukie after zones were realigned. When the zones became part of Milwaukie, the money became eligible for use toward redevelopment projects within the city, listed separately in the budget under "Milwaukie UGMA" (urban growth management area) to distinguish them from other Milwaukie SDCs.
Gamba said there have been talks to update the county's system so that zones are eliminated and SDCs collected anywhere within the county can be used countywide. Although that update has not happened yet, Gamba said Savas is treating it as though it has.
"Paul is pretending that since it was discussed to remove those zones, it has already happened — and it hasn't happened. There hasn't been a vote by the board to do that," Gamba said.
County board members and Milwaukie officials plan to revisit negotiations in August.
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