Anna Sowa / The Bulletin

If Bend's affordability is giving anyone a headache, a new report says buying painkillers or seeing a doctor won't help. Visiting a physician and buying 50 tablets of ibuprofen cost more in Bend than elsewhere in the state, according to a national cost-of-living report released Friday.

In the first quarter of 2007, Bend's cost of living was the second-highest in Oregon and was rising faster than three other metropolitan areas studied: Portland, Eugene and Klamath Falls. ACCRA - an Arlington, Va., research firm that conducted the study with information collected by the Bend Chamber of Commerce - ranked cities by an index composed of cities' cost of health care, housing, groceries, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services.

Bend's cost-of-living index was 116.4, up from 107 the last time the annual index was compiled in the second quarter of 2006. The index, which does not measure inflation, rates cities against an index base of 100. More than 100 is considered a higher-than-average cost of living.

The index shows Bend is trending in the ”wrong direction,” said Bend Chamber President and CEO Mike Schmidt.

”This is quite startling,” Schmidt said.

”This tells us we're losing a competitive edge with companies thinking of coming here because it's so expensive to live here.”

In Bend, the most drastic index increases were in housing costs and the price of groceries. Housing increased from 109.9 to 130.4, and groceries rose from 102 to 122.3.

Land available for building is limited by the city's urban growth boundary, Schmidt said, which increases the cost of development. City officials hope to expand the boundary by the end of this year.

Grocery store owners have said the cost of trucking goods to Central Oregon contributes to their higher cost.

The high health care costs, however, surprised Bend periodontist Dr. Nicholas Misischia. He said dental fees typically are cheaper in Bend than Portland. He speculated that high commercial lease rates in Bend could drive up prices.

”In my knowledge, I'm surprised to hear that Bend costs more than Portland,” he said, ”but I would expect Bend to be higher than a smaller community.”

For lifelong Bend resident Ian Dalesky, the data make sense.

”I think prices are higher here than at your average town,” Dalesky, 18, said while eating a sandwich in Drake Park on Friday. ”Some of the restaurants around town are really expensive - unless you want to eat fast food.”

Residents Michael and Timi Smith, however, don't think any cost-of-living increases have seriously affected them.

”It's Bend, so you expect to pay more,” Michael Smith said. ”It's the same as it's always been.”

Schmidt is working on changing that.

The chamber is studying how to fund better transportation solutions, like expanded bus services.

In September, the chamber also hopes to present officials in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties with a plan for providing affordable housing to workers through a demonstration housing project the chamber envisions in Sisters.

He worries that without reasonably priced housing, workers will be forced to commute from fringe areas. That means higher gas bills, congested roads and wasted time behind the wheel - things many people move here to escape.

”We've got to be able to house our work force,” Schmidt said. ”When you force out the middle class, you become a community of the affluent, and when families are forced out, city schools lose (attendance) and it increases congestion ... these are not trends you want to see in a community.”

ACCRA measured the relative costs of specific grocery items; housing, both rentals and mortgages; utilities; transportation, including maintenance and gasoline; health care, which included visits to optometrists, doctors and dentists and the price of ibuprofen and calcium; and miscellaneous goods and services, including pizza, a haircut, dry cleaning, clothing, newspaper subscriptions, movie tickets, alcoholic beverages and tennis balls.

Among other metropolitan areas: San Francisco's index was 172.1, with a housing cost index of 273.2; Los Angeles' index was 145.2, with a housing index of 253.1; and Bellingham, Wash.'s index was 111.3, with a housing index of 129.7.

Because the quarterly report is a separate comparison of prices at a single point in time, and because the number and mix of participants changes from one quarter to the next, ACCRA discourages comparing different quarters.

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