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Board rescinds vote on population projections after cities cry foul.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

Attempting to sidestep a threatened legal challenge by several local cities, the Lane County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday overturned its April 30 resolution rejecting a coordinated population projection developed last year by the Lane Council of Governments.

The projections had been commissioned by several small Lane County cities anticipating an increase in their growth rate. Such estimates are used by cities in seeking grants to expand services or to justify expansion of their boundaries.

While the commissioners formally adopted no alternative plan for creating the growth forecast, their direction to the county's land management staff made clear that a majority of the five-member board hopes to commission Portland State University to conduct a new population study.

And, in a year when the loss of federal safety net payments to timber counties forced the commissioners to slash public safety and other services, they voted to make $200,000 available for the new forecast.

In a last-minute change just before adopting the 2008-09 county budget, the board voted 4-1 to move $200,000 from the county's service stabilization reserve fund to a contingency fund where it could be tapped to pay for a new forecast. The $6.2 million stabilization fund was created to cover the widening gap between the costs of county salaries and benefits and increases in county tax revenue and other income. Such expenses outstrip revenue by about $3 million a year.

Commissioner Bobby Green cast the dissenting vote. Green said he has been operating "under the premise that we were in a financial crisis - that's what I've heard, and that's what I've been telling people." He said he would prefer spending the $200,000 to restore county services cut from the new budget.

But Commissioner Bill Dwyer, who proposed the budget change and rescinding of the April 30 decision, said any new study costs could be at least partly repaid by the cities and private parties who have pushed for an updated growth forecast. In any case, he said, growth projections are an important issue countywide.

Dwyer said the board's decision to rescind its April resolution "helps the cities free up the money they were going to spend fighting us" in their legal appeal. And if they choose not to help foot the bill for a PSU study, he said, the board could "always just wait until the new census - we're not required to do new projections now."

"I didn't want the threat that there's no money to prevent us from doing it right," Dwyer said in support of a new PSU study.

LCOG, which had performed all such past growth projections for the county, created the controversial forecast last year at the request of several local cities. Among them was Junction City, which is scrambling to prepare for up to 20 percent more residents expected in the coming two decades in the wake of a planned new state prison and state mental hospital there.

But the commissioners voted in April to reject the regional organization's projections this time, after some county residents and land use watchdog groups charged that LCOG had no legal authority to make the forecasts and had overstated likely growth for some cities.

That action prompted Creswell, Lowell, Oakridge and Veneta to join Junction City in notifying the county that it intended to appeal the April vote to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.

David Clyne, city administrator in Junction City, declined comment Wednesday on the county board's action, saying he first wanted to discuss it with officials from the other cities and with their legal counsel.

In testimony Wednesday morning, Clyne, Lowell City Administrator Chuck Spies and Veneta City Administrator Ric Ingham urged the commissioners to adopt the second of five options proposed by the county's land management staff: Have the county draft its own coordinated population projection, based on numbers developed by each city.

They said that approach would allow new public input at the local and county levels, thus addressing one of the big concerns raised by critics of the LCOG study. And they said they had no interest in helping fund a new study, having already spent time and money developing the LCOG numbers.

The local home builders' association and area real estate boards also expressed support for Option Two, which was recommended by Land Management Department Manager Matt Laird.

But a majority of the commissioners appeared to agree with Lowell developer Mia Nelson, who has charged that the numbers in her city were flawed and who unearthed the fact that LCOG had no legal authority to do the projections.

Under Option Two, the commissioners would simply "play the waitress role, taking the triple bacon cheeseburger orders from the cities and delivering them," she said Wednesday morning. She noted that the option provided no neutral party affirmation that the numbers were valid.
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Title Annotation:Government Local; Commissioners set aside $200,000 to help prepare new growth estimates
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 26, 2008
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