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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Lewallen

Did You Know- Camas Wastes Taxpayer Money

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

The city of Camas has engaged in excess spending and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. From a bank building deal gone bad, swimming pools that were voted down 90-10, an $8 million dollar roundabout and a purchase of land 500% over what the land was originally assessed at, there seems to be no accountability or oversight on how our leaders are spending and wasting YOUR money.

For example, did you know:

In 2018, The Camas City Council approved an agreement to purchase the former “Bank of America building” in downtown Camas. This original purchase cost $1.6 million. What you may not know is that another bank was interested in purchasing the same property. After engaging in a bidding war with the potential Camas business, not only did the city drive up the cost of the property, but the city threatened to use its condemnation powers to unfairly compete in the open real estate market.

As a result of driving out its competitor, the city acquired property which just a year prior had been valued at $535,000- for the basement-bargain price of $1.325M – a price which did not include the original estimated cost of renovations. (The original plan was for the city to use $1M from bonds and up to $1M from the City’s real estate excise taxes (REET) to fund the property purchase and necessary renovations.

Fun fact: after unfairly acquiring the bank property, the city quickly learned that it’s estimated renovation costs would be twice what was budgeted. Who pays for this mistaken oversight?

Next, let us look at the new $8M roundabout at Everett and Lake. Prior to building this new roundabout, the city constructed (with advice from consultants), 4 separate roundabouts for $8M. Why was this 5th roundabout 4X the cost of the other FOUR roundabouts just built? After recently hiring consultants and constructing 4 other roundabouts at $2M a piece, the city decided that we needed to hire MORE consultants for this ONE roundabout. Why? The cost of the new consultants ALONE was as much as the cost of construction of one of the four previously built roundabouts. Looking at the math another way, 25% of the $8M price tag went solely to pay these NEW consultants.

If the $8M price tag was not bad enough, the roundabout does little to solve the real problem- the narrow 2 lane road that is the main ingress and egress road to Camas High School is still congested. I am sure the taxpayers will get hit with additional sticker shock when the city decides to move forward with improving that road and raising the bridge at Lacamas Lake.

The City also purchased $4M worth of land they call “Legacy Lands” (although there is no legal protection which precludes them from being sold or developed) for $24M from lucky land owners surrounding the often poisonous Lacamas Lake. Wait. What? I would LOVE it if my property value increased 600% in the same year I was selling it!! CHA-CHING!!! How is that even possible? Citizens were not even given a crack at saying NO to this purchase! Now, the city has a “vision” of developing this Northshore landgrab – a vision that is in direct conflict with the vision of the taxpayers. (See Rebels With a Cause Map at Visioning workshop)

And finally, lest we forget- The POOL. What about the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to consultants for a pool that citizens voted down 90-10? That money is GONE and Crown pool is gone. Crown Pool could have been fixed for an estimated $2M. But the City, obsessed with yet another “vision”, decided to dig it up and fill it in. Now our kids are left without a community pool. Will we be asked to pay for MORE consultants when we finally demand our pool back?

The problem is clear. Former Mayor Shannon Turk said it best:

“…The city has a public relations problem … and a lingering perception that the Camas City Council is a good ‘ol boys network. This is one of the most underhanded government tactics I’ve seen and it casts a dark shadow on the elected leaders in our community.” Former Mayor Shannon Turk. (Could Camas be the Grinch? Camas-Washougal Post-Record).

At a time when the city grapples with the economic fallout of a pandemic and how to pay for more fire and police officers, how does the city justify spending and wasting excessive amounts of taxpayer dollars? Who is holding them accountable?

My solution is simple. Stop outsourcing our decision-making to consultants. We elect our leaders to make these decisions and it is time they do their job. Otherwise, what purpose do they serve?


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