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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 2, 2007 3:38 AM. The previous post in this blog was New airline no-no. The next post in this blog is More crazy people walking the streets. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

These numbers crunch you

Exactly how much long-term debt does the City of Portland currently have outstanding to pay for "urban renewal" projects? It's not an easy number to come by, that's for sure.

The Portland Development Commission, which runs the show on "urban renewal," has an "annual report" posted on the internet that's supposed to cover these things. But it doesn't seem quite "annual," as it covers the fiscal years 2006-07 and 2007-08. When last I checked, that would be two years, which would make this document a biennial report.

Anyway, on the question of the "urban renewal" debt total, the best this document can offer is where the city stood as of June 30, 2006, which is 15 months ago. At that time, as page 5 reveals, there was quite a boatload of indebtedness outstanding. They're not daring enough to add the various rows up, but I've got a calculator, and I can do that. "Indebtedness Issued as of 6/30/06" adds up to $596,806,370.

Let's stop there for a second and ponder this. The city has already borrowed $596 million -- more than $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the city -- just for "urban renewal." And that's as of 15 months ago. One would think that the number's gone up in the meantime.

And it's about to grow even more. It was recently announced that they're about to add a new $277 million in "interim lines of credit" in the near future for more "urban renewal" hijinx. I don't know why they're going the "interim" borrowing route -- maybe the credit markets are too tight for permanent debt at this point. But that's another $500 a head or so that's about to get loaded onto taxpayers' shoulders.

It gets worse. There's lots more borrowing "capacity" in the pipeline. According to the PDC's table and my calculator, "Indebtedness Remaining as of 6/30/06" adds up to another $1,344,523,248. That's $1.3 billion of debt that the city can run out and incur for "urban renewal," which would amount to nearly $2,400 more of long-term debt for every resident of the city, over and above where it was 15 months ago.

Urban renewal sure is pretty, and it's making some developers, construction companies, and streetcar builders rich, but is it worth putting everyone who lives in Portland $3,400 in hock?

Now, the apologists for this fiscal irresponsibility will jump up and tell you that the bonds that are floated to borrow this money are going to be paid back out of all the increased property taxes that are sure to flow when all the shiny "urban renewal" toys are finally in place. But the city's latest bond sales document -- the "preliminary official statement" that we blogged about last week -- casts some doubt on that assertion.

If you look at the big scorecard of debt on page 13 of the POS (page 25 of the pdf file), you'll see that only about $272 million of the city's urban renewal bonds are "revenue bonds," which could never be collected by the bondholders out of general fund property taxes. Now, remember, the PDC tells us that there are nearly $597 million in "urban renewal" obligations floating around out there. If only $272 million of that amount are "revenue bonds," then the other $325 million must be classified as "bonds paid and/or secured by the general fund."

Which, unless I'm mistaken, means that if it turns out that the property tax pot of gold is not at the end of our "urban renewal" rainbow, all the taxpayers of Portland will get to pay those bonds off. Indeed, in an important sense, we're already paying them. As will be seen on the property tax statements that will arrive in the next couple of weeks, around 20 percent of all property tax collections by the City of Portland already goes to "urban renewal."

Bottom line: When you consider why the city's so far in hock ($4.2 billion and counting), "urban renewal" plays a major role. It's behind only the police and fire pension pit and the continuing sewer debacle as a source of fiscal heartburn for the city's taxpayers. Before we run out and drive all the businesses out of inner southeast to make way for more condo towers and streetcars, maybe we ought to consider putting away the credit cards and taking a breather, for a few years at least.

Comments (27)

You are going to drive yourself nuts with this.

You shoudl know how this city runs, each commisioner has his pet projects. He does some sort of log-rolling with the other commissioners to get his project funded by siphoning off basic services monies where they can.

Then they can go back and cry poverty foor funding things taxpayers want and hold us over a barrel.

The average Portland voter being gets told "blah, blah, blah - NO blood for oil" and then votes for these guys even though they are worse than any other slimy stock or mortgage broker by defrauding the average taxpayer.

I mean you look at how they borrow and then commit future tax revenues several times over, don't tell me its not a modified Ponizi scheme.

Hate to say it Jack, but this is nothing new under the cloudy skies of Portland.
The early history of Stump Town is filled with graft and corruption stories that just continue to evolve into a more sophisticated format (PDC et al).
What we as citizens must try to do is keep tabs, and try to curb the enthusiasm for these schemes as often as we can.
Keep up the good work! I truly admire you for actually reading the PDC financial statements. They are the most awful convoluted stuff....

I can't immediately find the POS for each of two PPS bonds scheduled for auction Oct 9.

They are listed on the State Treasurer's bond calender list.

$10,055,000 MULTNOMAH CTY SD 2007A Litigation settlement Education 1J (PORTLAND)
$5,170,000 MULTNOMAH CTY SD 2007B Litigation settlement Education 1J (PORTLAND)

This resembles the obligation amount related to the effective refusal to recognize the janitor's bargaining agent and the summary firing of the employees, under the cover of contracting out janitorial services. I had remarked at a budget hearing held at Madison early in Super Vicki's short term here that it was wrong, but by way of contrasting it with the prospect of the district doing precisely the same for all teachers . . . contracting out all teaching services to a private outfit.

I can't help but (re)view that the savings from the firings were critical to the agreement to raise PAT member compensation (and perhaps other uses). By bonding the janitor settlement (if it is the janitor settlement) it fails to restore the parties (as between the PAT-members and the janitors) to the position they would have been in had the janitors not been fired. It instead preserves the beneficial position of the PAT-members obtained by way of the overtly hostile (and illegal) efforts by the PPS to give favor to one labor group over another labor group to the limited resources identified in the then-existing budget. Can the teachers plead innocence in totality for the actions of the PPS, or should the original contract be reopened to adjust the prior budget to reflect the correction to the illegal acts of PPS? Super Vicki proclaimed a new harmonious relationship with labor. (Selectively applied, of course.) Surely no bargainer for PAT could argue that they had no knowledge of the hammer that was initially applied to the janitors.

Meanwhile: District "performance" auditor Dick Tracy ("Richard Tracy") notes "instructional time" issues? And apparently "recommends greater accountability and changes to increase students’ time engaged in learning[.]"

"Tracy, former director of audits for the City of Portland, this year plans" [blah blah] . . . . I can't wait to see what more he has learned from the master of elections and audits and accountability for Portland.

What sort of similar liability, qualitative and not yet reduced to hard numbers, is already pregnant in the City of Portland?

Businesses use water and own land, too. I think your numbers are inflated.

Excellent piece of digging, Jack. It's one thing to point out how much we are in debt, you need to tell us how we are being harmed if we are. I personally like the way our city looks when I drive over the Marquam or the Fremont bridge. Our little city, long in the backwaters of Seattle and San Francisco is growing up fast.

Mike, would you distinguish an employee that lifts a laptop from work from someone that lifts a laptop from an Internet cafe client that momentarily answered the call of the wild? It is the "act" that is the question. Rest assured that folks that are officially recognized as criminals have their own internal (moral) limits. When faced with a risk-free opportunity for personal gain it is the natural urge to avail oneself of it . . . . like finding a twenty on the sidewalk, or on the floor in a store, even where you might have seen the loser discard it by way of inattention as they approach the counter in a store. They should have paid closer attention! They'll learn their lesson, IF I KEEP IT! . . .

Yesterday I commented that we are addicted to spending projects, and would one day have to sell Portlandia for scrap metal. The comparison between our city council and drug addicts was unfortunate, but it just fits. We all have things in life that give us our favorite rushes. Why does Donald Trump continue putting up buildings? I believe there must be 24 hours or so after he closes a deal or finishes a project when he feels a tremendous high. But the high never lasts so he starts up again. Ever since PGE Park, I've noticed our politicians get a big thrill out of playing junior Donald Trumps, with financing provided by the taxpayers.
It must be exciting building a tram or a streetcar line - then driving by later and saying, "Look, that was me who did that!" But sadly, the high begins to fade and you need a new project to get it back. And doing the mundane stuff of government? You can't get a buzz doing that.
Why spend time on the boring stuff like sewer lines, or preparing for the big earthquake you know we're going to face? You can be out there making exciting changes to the basic look of Portland! That's where the action is!
Moving around downtown the other day was a revelation. There are projects everywhere. It looked like all the bottles and beer cans around an alcoholic. These fancy spending projects must be quite a rush, but the problem is you're always chasing the next high. Addictions don't get better until you realize you have a problem. In the long run, you'll feel much more fulfilled as city leaders if you stop chasing the high, and start treating the people around you right. In this case, the people around you are the citizens of Portland.

The big lie in Urban Renewal is that all the increase in assessed value inside the district is truly "incremental," in that it would not have happened without the urban renewal infrastructure spending.

This is wrong in two ways: first, the urban renewal district is drawn not just over undeveloped land, but also over fully developed parcels, whose assessed value is frozen at current levels just the same as the undeveloped land. So the taxpayers get screwed by virtue of the incremental taxes from the increases in those lands' values that will now go to pay back the bonds rather that to schools, fire, police, and the state.

Secondly, the fiction is that development "created" by urban renewal would not have happened anywhere if not for the urban renewal infrastructure spending. To believe this, we would have to believe that 500,000 people are going to move to Portland in the next 25 years, but local developers would be unable to build any housing for them unless they were given the subsidy from urban renewal.

At best, what urban renewal does is direct development that would have happened somewhere into the urban renewal districts. Thus, the "increment" would have happened without urban renewal, and therefore it DOES amount to a cost to taxpayers.

Portland likes to operate on the fiction that tax increment money is "found" money. This is a lie; just one of the many emanating from the Goldschmidt Mafia.

"In the long run, you'll feel much more fulfilled as city leaders if you stop chasing the high, and start treating the people around you right."

100% agreement. It is really fun playing developer with other people's (taxpayers) money when there is no downside. The project goes south we throw more money at it (a la the Convention Center) or just move on (PGE Park) and pretend nothing happened.

Meanwhile, developers take advantage and people like Sam can overcome a poor childhood by spending large now. I really think therapy to overcome neuroses is approriate for this bunch.

I thought Portland downtown looked just fine almost 30 years ago. What really was attractive about Portland, though, was not so much its downtown but the surrounding residential neighborhoods with the family sized lots. The expansion of the downtown outward into these neighborhoods in the name of density I find threatening. I'm with Jack on this one. Let's slow Portland's public sector "investment" activities. Concentrate instead on maintaining all the toys the city has built in the last five years rather than adding new ones.

To add to Kremer's post.
Urban Renewal further vanquishes basic serivces budgets by diverting All of the property taxes from the UR development for decades. Whereas if other development would have been allowed, even years ago such as with SoWa, which would have not needed at UR All of the property taxes would be going to basic services.

The UR diverting of basic services general fund revenue is massive and public officials have repeatedly deceived the public at every theft.

Well what is it exactly that "renewal" of the inner SE side is going to bring? Condos and povery wage jobs in cheesy boutiques as appears to be the case in The Pearl? A condo wasteland as in the South Waterfront? I am sure that Gresham, Wilsonville and Clackamas will appreciate the flight of businesses that will take place with this taxpayer financed "renewal" and the family wage jobs that will go with them. Not to mention the wonders of traffic slogging through the morass already building along Belmont and Morrison. Ah, but the trams will fix all that!

Very well said, Bill McDonald!

To add to Kremer and Ben's posts, Portland discourages small-scale developments through the burdens of complex building and zoning codes, exactions, and system development charges. There is an army of city employees who make it disproportionately expensive to build small developments. That helps big developers by dampening their smaller competition. Big developers get fast-track approval, SDC exemptions, subsidies, loan guarantees, and even locked-in sales of condos as "affordable housing."

It would be much cheaper and more effective for Portland to spur development simply by not charging SDCs to small developers.

How about some context here? Is Portland's indebtedness greater or lesser than other cities of our size? For all we know, that "$x per resident" figure could be half of what it is in Austin, TX or Columbus, OH. What was the per capita indebtedness in Orange County before they went bankrupt?

Jack, I know you are aware that your PDC urban renewal debt total for the city's eleven URAs doesn't include the many projects that have been promised and listed for each district. For example for SoWhat less than 1/3rd of projects agreed to in the City Council approved eight amendments have been built or started. Not one of the major transportation projects are even on the boards, as well as the Greenway and Park.

The numbers given by PDC biennial sloppy reports (which doesn't meet ORS requirements) do not include these future obligated costs for the districts. Coupled with the cost overruns, inflation, not meeting the prescribed timetables for project completions, there are over $350 Million just in SoWhat alone that are not included in your tally.

"For all we know, that "$x per resident" figure could be half of what it is in Austin, TX or Columbus, OH. What was the per capita indebtedness in Orange County before they went bankrupt?"

So if Orange County is in debt $6000/capita, then it is OK for Portland to be in debt $4000/capita? Should we wait until Portland spends an extra $2000/citizen before we say anything?

That's a non-issue, the issue is we take on all this debt (for pensions and developer's largesse) and schools, police and paved roads are still short of money.

"Our credit card payments will be half our salary pretty soon, but we're not in as bad shape as the Joneses next door, so let's keep using plastic for everything, and continue impulse shopping."

So use a national average, or a benchmark provided by a good-government group, or something. The point is that the numbers don't mean very much without some context. I have no idea what an acceptable level of per capita public indebtedness is, I'm just asking the question.

Steve is disagreeing with the city's spending priorities, not with its instrument for raising money. If the City borrowed for his priorities--"schools, police, and paved roads"--would he be OK with that?

I have no idea what an acceptable level of per capita public indebtedness is

The answer is not going to be found by asking "What is everyone else doing?"

Why not confront the actual numbers? At 4 percent, when you owe $4.2 billion, you're paying $168 million a year in interest! Even if you ignore the pension timebomb,* $2.4 billion of debt costs you $96 million in interest. Should the City of Portland, which currently finds itself in something approximating that position, keep racking up more debt? Or should it start paying some of its existing debt down?

* - Which you shouldn't, because the $1.8 billion figure takes into account the time value of money -- essentially, interest.

The portland borrowing binge is going to continue if federal regulators have their way. $750 Million more for stormwater treatment ( yeah, the $1.4 Billion Big Pipe doesn't really do the whole job - but City Hall knew that before they approved it! ) If Portland loses its EPA suit over drinking water treatment, well that's another $500 Million or so, And then there's the Portland harbor superfund cleanup - God only knows what that will cost.

Milana from PPS sent me the link to the official statements for the Oct 9 bond sale.

Barbie has a credit card now.

This is all just crazy.
I mean can you all just imagine how little of a grasp Leonard and the rest have of this?
I'll bet none of them have the slightest awareness or curiosity to know. And don't care.
After all it's not their job to make it all sound. They are each just one individual.
As Randy said, "I'm not going allienate myself by taking a principled stance."

Safety first, fireman!

"If the City borrowed for his priorities--"schools, police, and paved roads"--would he be OK with that?"

Now you're talking fantasy. The city will take all "loose" uncommitted money they can divert to their pet projects. Last thing to get funded will be what people expect them to do - police, schools and roads.

If they honestly prioritized spending and did not have enough for schools, then borrowing is OK. However, CoP mindset is that if we get $30M extra then we spend it on doulas and flying ballet troupes first, not schools/police/roads.

I would say no to borrowing since it is throwing good money after bad, unless CoP can porve they clean up their spending habits.

I still don't understand your position. Are you saying that all public debt is bad? Or only if it exceeds a certain level? Or that debt is OK, as long as it is incurred for things we like?

Issuing bonds to pay for a convention center hotel or a baseball stadium is just stupid. No argument there.

But didn't you vote in favor the Metro open space bonds? For levies that helped fund libraries and schools? I did. I don't agree with every decision they made in spending that money, but on average, I think that was a positive use of public dollars.

If we're going to make an analogy to personal finance, didn't you borrow money to buy your house? To pay for college?

Maybe the city's financial situation is teetering on the brink of total collapse. Or maybe it's healthy and robust. That "every man, woman, and child" thing is not meaningful without context. I still owe the bank $150,000 on my house. So what? I can cover that. If I had no job, or I owed the bank $800,000, that would be a problem. See what I mean?

Benschon, if your house is falling apart, your kids are dressed in tatters, etc., I can say with confidence that you are living beyond your means.

Similarly, the fact that Portland can't maintain its roads or schools is a pretty good indication it shouldn't be borrowing more money.

"I still don't understand your position."

Yes, I have nothing against borrowing against future tax revenues if:
- For essential services like police/schools
- If the majority of the money went to the intended purpose
- If it does not replace money diverted to non-essential projects.

So I guess I'd vote for a bond for a new school, yes. If METRO takes the bond money for open spaces and diverts it to buidling a hotel, then screw that.

My issue is that whenever CoP (See previous) or the state (early this year, Gov Kulongoski stated the 20% extra to education won't reduce student/teacher ratios, but rather pay for more benefits) has extra money, it doesn't go to the schools. Schools are bottom priority with these people.

Pet projects get dedicated money (a la Blumenhauer writing money for streetcars so it can only be used on streetcars and not potholes), while general funds which can be diverted go to pet projects first and essentials last.

So the basic plot is - Take all the money for pet projects, then cry poverty when not enough is left over essentials.


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Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 62
At this date last year: 144
Total run in 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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