Do you remember this great song:
“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around,
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round …” (Cabaret)
If you don’t have the time to read the below FACTS about the insane/hilarious new Molalla Transportation System Plan (TSP) know this: the City of Molalla HAS NO MONEY TO MAKE ANYTHING GO AROUND these days, let alone a “plan” that costs – hold your breath! – $91 MILLION DOLLARS TO IMPLEMENT! It’s beyond crazy and incompetent for Molalla “leaders” to endorse a plan they have no ability to pay for.
But wait! Maybe this is the phony dream in the head of the Molalla “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride” planners who promote abject nonsense (like El Hefe so-called city “manager” Huff and his buddy, so-called public works “manager” Fisher – can they READ A BUDGET?):
Do the so-called “managers” and “planners” of Molalla actually believe money is going to fall from the sky to save the Decayville mess they have created? Apparently so, given the ridiculous beyond belief 20 year Transportation System Plan (TSP) about to be rubber stamped by the untrained, naive, led by the nose Planning Commission (Apparently the so-called “mayor” Thompson and his El Hefe “manager” Huff like to keep the Planning Commission untrained, all the better for pushing through private agendas!). Here’s the real truth about this crazy $91 million plan for Molalla, a city that can barely afford to fix a pot hole and struggles every year to balance the budget!
Sept. 4, 2018
Molalla Planning Commission,
In February, comments were submitted to the consultants tasked with guiding Molalla to a viable TSP (see below for the submitted comments). The comments focused on the need for the City of Molalla to produce a REALISTIC TSP that had a chance of being implemented. Instead, Molalla has again produced a ridiculously expensive, aspirational plan that has virtually no chance of being implemented. The tech memo from the consultants noted exactly how costly and unrealistic this overreaching plan is (quote):
Molalla Transportation System Plan (TSP) Update Project #: 21266.6.6
June 18, 2018 Page 3
Kittelson & Associates, Inc. Portland, Oregon
The TSP will include a planned transportation system, which identifies all of the projects and programs needed to address all of the transportation needs within the city and a financially constrained transportation system, which identifies the projects and programs the City anticipates being able to fund over the next 22 years. Per Tech Memo 3: TSP Financial Forecast, the amount of local funds that is expected to be available for capital projects in the TSP over the next 22 years is $0. Per Tech Memo 3, the City is expected to have a deficit of approximately $16.5 million, which is equivalent to a deficit of roughly $750,000 per year. *1
(*1 This number does not account for potential funding from state and federal grants such as the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and House Bill (HB) 2017 Transportation Investments. While it is likely that these funds will be used to fund some transportation improvements within the city over the next 22 years, because of the uncertainty in acquiring grant funds, these funding sources are not accounted for in the City’s revenue forecast.)
PLANNED TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM COST SUMMARY
Table 1 summarizes the costs associated with the planned transportation system. As shown, the full cost of the planned transportation system is approximately $91 million over the 22-year period, including $11 million in high priority projects, $43 million in medium priority projects, and $37 million in low priority projects. Based on the anticipated funds available from System Development Charges, there will be > 1.0 million to fund the financially constrained plan. This suggests the city will need to identify other potential revenue sources to fund transportation, including implementation of the TSP projects over the 22-year period.” End quote
Molalla is facing the need to “find” $46 million dollars – actually that’s a LEGAL MANDATE PER DEQ! – in the next few years for to remedy its glaring wastewater problems – huge utility rate increases will be necessary to prove that needed loans can be repaid. Add that sum to the $91 million the City needs to “find” for this unrealistic TSP: that’s $137 million Molalla faces “finding” when it can barely balance the budget each year. (Update Feb. 14, 2019 – the new projected figure for a DEQ compliant Molalla Wastewater Plant that meets current permit standards has risen to – hold your hats – $71 MILLION!)
My February comments noted that Molalla was likely to lose the ability to impose $11/month on rate payers to try to pay for transportation. In May, over 71% of Molalla voters rejected that fee. That rejection, per the City Manager and Public Works Manager, left Molalla with virtually no working funds to even upgrade Molalla’s existing roads, let alone build any new infrastructure. A 71%+ rejection of road fees does not bode well for imposing more road fees in the future to raise money for road infrastructure.
Molalla’s financial woes can, at least in part, be traced to past costly planning fiascos which flew in the face of reality – most glaring were the years and money wasted promoting the “need” for a 2,000+ acre Urban Reserve which was roundly defeated at the County level. Molalla has failed to charge adequate SDCs that could have helped with transportation needs. Molalla is glaringly deficient in providing adequate parks/greenspaces.
In the light of all the past, costly planning failures that have resulted in a low quality City, it would be another disservice to the people of greater Molalla to pass a plan that has next to zero chance of being implemented. When will Molalla begin to learn from past mistakes so they are not repeated over and over again and instead produce a balanced, quality city that doesn’t just focus on stuffing in low quality development by constantly lowing standards?
When a consultant points out the (to put it mildly) “financial constrictions” faced by Molalla, it is unconscionable to pass a plan that is projected to cost $91 million.
Is the PC really ready to saddle Molalla with, per the consultants’ memo, a projected $750,000/ a year TRANSPORTATION DEFECIT?
The following comments are even more true today, substantiated by the consultants’ tech memo, noting Molalla’s “financial constrictions”:
February 19, 2018
Re: Comments about the Molalla TSP
Dear Molalla TSP Technical Committee,
It is of concern that time and public money are being devoted to creating new “plans” for the City of Molalla when anyone who reads the long list of projects in the 2001 TSP would quickly realize virtually no projects on that list were ever implemented. Further, Molalla has failed to collect adequate SDCs over the years and its citizens are in the process of likely rejecting an $11/month road utility fee. Any responsible transportation planner would note these extreme constrictions and failures and would have refused to grant funds for new “plans” that will likely also fail to be implemented. Since ODOT has unwisely allowed this TSP grant, please take close consideration of the long list of constrictions and only approve a TSP that has a chance for once of being implemented.
Molalla’s failure to implement past TSP (as well as the failure to implement other “plans” created with public grants); the financial inability to implement future plans; the failure to accept the impossibility of the Forest Road as an affordable, viable arterial; existing debt obligations; $32-38 million more debt looming for wastewater facilities upgrades; and the financial inability of local residents to manage large fee increases should all be factors the TSP committee carefully considers in planning the new TSP.
Failure to implement the 2001 TSP:
The Molalla 2017-2018 budget shows of list of road projects that were supposed to have been done, per the 2001 TSP, by 2006. The current budget lists these more than 10 years overdue projects as “Pending new Transportation Improvement Fee”, yet, before the new $11/month fee could be imposed, citizen petitioners recently gathered enough valid signatures to put the fee on the May ballot. Rate payers of Molalla are highly adverse to rate hikes, since, per Business Oregon’s distressed city, list Molalla is one of the more poverty stricken cities in Clackamas County. Per this quote in the 2017-2018 Molalla budget by Public Works Manager Gerald Fisher, without a devoted road fee Molalla can’t even keep up with escalating road maintenance, let alone implement major projects: (bold added):
“Without increases to the Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Fund user fees, the City will not be able to perform needed operation and maintenance activities and deferred capital improvements. These operations and projects will reach a tipping point as the community rapidly approaches a population of 10,000 creating additional requirements related to permitting, testing, reporting, staff certification, and capital expenditures for upgrades in the water, sewer, and stormwater systems. The pavement condition index is in the low 60’s for city owned and operated streets. The threshold for accelerated degradation of pavement begins at a score of 70. Without a street user fee or other sustainable funding source, the street system will continue to degrade increasing the cost of repair and rehabilitation. Projects related to transportation enhancement are essentially unfunded and have been since the adoption of the Transportation Master Plan in 2001. An update to the plan is underway and without a sustainable funding source to match with transportation system development charges, the City will continue to be unable to design and construct any of the capacity increasing and safety related project that will serve the community as it grows.”
As Molalla postpones the projects in its “plans” the costs of the projects escalate. Here is a list of the projects that were, per the 2001 TSP, supposed to have been completed by 2006 that are “pending” in the current Molalla budget; the 2018 cost is shown with the cost in 2001:
Reconstruct May Ave (5th-6th) $113K ($75,000 in 2001
Reconstruct Section St (Molalla-Hart) $150K ($100,000 in 2001)
Reconstruct Heintz St (Cole-Grange) $315K$ ($210,000 in 2001)
Reconstruct S. Cole $210K ($140,000 in 2001)
Reconstruct Shirley St (Molalla-Cole) $556K$ ($370,000 in 2001)
Failure to plan in scale with financial capability to implement plans:
Please don’t add more unrealistic timelines and projects in a new TSP that Molalla, per its own budget admission, clearly can’t afford. If, as is likely, the voters reject the $11 road utility fee, Molalla will have virtually no chance of doing much in the way of maintenance; even with the $11/month fee it will take years to fix the degraded existing streets and to provide missing sidewalks or adequate bike lanes. The failure to implement the 2001 TSP should be a big red flag that any new TSP must be extremely conservative and should closely question how Molalla will come up with the financial resources to implement any plans. Molalla has already encumbered its Urban Renewal Funds via borrowing for the Molalla Ave paving project and it is indebted to pay back four loans. Of most concern should be the coming need to “find” a projected $32-38 million for wastewater facilities, which will surely put a huge burden on utility rate payers who have already proved adverse to the road utility fee, which is optional – upgrading the wastewater facilities, will not be optional.
Molalla has also failed to charge and collect adequate SDCs over the past decades, so SDCs can’t be depended upon for funding roads. Because of the proven lack of wastewater processing capacity, Molalla may even be facing a moratorium on building which would truncate SDC funds.
Failure to honestly assess future population:
Please don’t overestimate Molalla’s capacity for population growth. The 2001 TSP said “SDC report forecast Molalla’s population in the year 2019 to be approximately 13,370”, yet the 2018 population has not reached 10,000. DLCD has confirmed that until the wastewater facility capacity issue is solved it would not allow any UGB expansion. Molalla is facing a Mutual Agreement and Order with DEQ and enforcement for failing to comply with the terms of a Consent Decree that resulted from a citizen Clean Water Act lawsuit; both legal actions could also impose restrictions on growth until wastewater capacity is solved. The commute from Molalla to viable job centers is the longest in the County and as Oregon’s roads continue to be choked, that commute can inhibit Molalla’s desirability. Overestimating growth causes out of scale “plans” that can’t be implemented.
Failure to accept that the Forest Road is not a viable bypass or arterial:
Please remove the Molalla Forest Road from the TSP as any potential truck bypass/arterial.
In 2011, Business Oregon considered providing a $60,000 grant for a feasibility study to see if Molalla could build the Forest Road into a modern truck bypass. Much community outcry ensued that spending $60.000 was a waste of public money and research quickly proved that there was no way Molalla could afford to change an archaic abandoned logging “road” into a modern bypass that would cost tens of millions of dollars. Clackamas County confirmed that it is in question whether Molalla really “owns” the Forest Road – any plans made for it need to show legal transfer and that was a murky path in Clackamas County records; Molalla needs to show conclusive proof of clear ownership.
If Molalla wanted access to wished for industrial businesses (which to date never have materialized) Business Oregon’s Mike Solt said in 2011 he would “much prefer” to see short connector links off Highway 211 (Molalla’s Main Street) to the industrial brownfields.
When questioned about this “feasibility study”, ODOT’s Sonya Kazen noted on the phone that “Maybe Molalla needs to do this study to finally prove to itself it can’t afford the Forest Road. Then it could concentrate on the 211 Corridor”. That comment didn’t inspire public trust in the process or expectation for a positive outcome from the grant and ultimately there was no study.
It should not take a “study” for this committee to know that the Forest Road as a bypass would be a long shot for a well-funded large city; for Molalla it is a totally out of reach “vision” that does not belong on the TSP as anything but a recreational corridor/ local residential access road as Clackamas County has suggested. Molalla has made “plans” over the years that claim it wants to protect wetlands and water resources, enhance wildlife corridors and provide recreational opportunities – the Forest Road, with its wetlands along Bear Creek, its peaceful rural setting and its existing narrow ROW is the perfect place for Molalla to begin to fulfill those long overdue promises.
Failure to provide adequate active transportation opportunities:
Molalla’s unimplemented 2007 Parks Plan noted the extreme lack of parks/greenspaces/recreational opportunities for the NW portion of Molalla. Since that plan was written, the SW area has also received a large influx of population via a massive apartment complex and soon to be build residential neighborhoods. As with roads, Molalla has totally failed to implement any of the bike and pedestrian improvements called for in the 2001 TSP.
The 2017-2018 budget has almost $500,000 listed as needed for bike and pedestrian improvements and bike lanes on Highway 213 – again, that funding is listed as pending the in question road utility fee. Those pedestrian/bike projects are also carry-overs from the failed 2001 TSP. There is little hope Molalla at this point will ever catch up with pedestrian/bicycle transportation needs, given the escalating costs.
Without a TSP BASED ON A REALISTIC ANALYSIS OF MOLALLA’S GLARING FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS, in twenty years we can expect another failure to implement, just like the 2001 TSP. It is up to transportation experts to produce a TSP that has any hope of being implemented. Please stop producing “plans”, at the expense of Oregonians’ public funds, that are out of scale and dishonest in terms of Molalla’s capacity to implement in a timely manner. Molalla has lost years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money by putting unattainable aspirational planning over realistic goals. If Molalla is ever going to improve its overall quality of life and become a successful, financially sound city, it needs to start taking baby steps instead of being overwhelmed with plans like a Forest Road truck bypass it will never be able to afford.
As a greater Molalla community resident, I feel sorry for those inside the Molalla city limits who are not getting the quality of life they deserve. As an Oregonian, I resent seeing public money wasted on these planning grants if they are not going to be implemented in a timely manner with discernible results.