Voters should know what they are voting on. But there’s likely going to be mystery on the May ballot.
Bend voters are probably going to be voting on a $180 million transportation bond in May. If the measure is on the ballot, a complete list of the projects that the money would be spent on won’t be — not in the ballot’s title, summary or explanatory statement. There are “just too many to list in our word limit” for the ballot, Bend City Attorney Mary Winters explained to councilors at Wednesday’s meeting.
It’s unfortunate. But the city is working on some smart steps to create a firm connection between what voters vote on and what they get.
Before we launch into those steps, there is a bit more you should know. The city does not have high quality estimates of how much particular transportation improvements will cost and what exactly the resulting end product will look like. It has done estimates — what they call Class 5 estimates. Those are high level, which means there can be considerable variability in cost.
For instance, there’s more than $30 million in the city project list for improvements on Reed Market Road, including an overcrossing at the railroad. If voters approve the bond, the city will have to spend money and have the money to finalize details and create better cost projections. New transportation needs or opportunities may also pop up over the 10 years of the bond. So the city says it needs some flexibility in the bond.
You can see a list of the likely projects on the city’s website www.bendoregon.gov/city-projects/safe-travel. It had not been adjusted as of Thursday morning to the latest changes made by councilors.
City councilors and staff know voters are going to want to know as much as they can about how any bond money will be spent. When the city did its last transportation bond, it produced regular reports and put them on its website showing progress on bond projects and what money was spent where. It needs to do that again.
Another key is voter oversight. The city is working on a concept for an oversight committee. Presumably the committee would include residents as well as perhaps councilors. That committee should strive to ensure what the money is spent on matches the project list. Please, no surprises without clear justification and explanation.