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April 16th, 2008 12:00 am NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories

Potter’s Legacy

Forget visioning. The mayor takes aim at building something before he leaves office.

HOME FOR A RANGE: Portland Mayor Tom Potter wants the city to buy land in Scappoose for a police training center. that would include a shooting range and emergency-vehicle operation course.

With one gesture, Mayor Tom Potter may create a legacy for himself, mend his ruptured relationship with the Portland Police Bureau and resolve a longstanding irritation for a powerful lawmaker.

That would be quite an achievement for a mayor whose three-plus years in office have been marked by council squabbling that hit bottom over renaming a street after César Chávez, a high-profile election loss on a city charter measure that would’ve strengthened his office, and a “visioning” project.

But in the $388 million budget he released Tuesday (see Murmurs, page 14, for more), Potter asked for $2 million to buy land for a proposed police training facility in Scappoose.

“This is a high priority for the mayor,” says Potter’s spokesman, John Doussard. “It’s very important to him.”

Potter—a former police chief serving his final year as mayor—wants the Police Bureau to buy 275 acres just east of the Scappoose Airport for a new training center. The center would include an outdoor shooting range, an emergency-vehicle operations course, and classrooms.

Currently, the bureau relies on a patchwork of facilities—including the city-owned Portland International Raceway, a driving course in Shelton, Wash., and shooting ranges in Clackamas County—for training.

In a presentation to city commissioners, Chief Rosie Sizer said the present setup was inadequate in several ways, ranging from the heavy overtime costs required to send officers to distant facilities to flooding at the heavily used Canby shooting range. In 2008, Sizer expects to spend about $400,000 to use training facilities the city doesn’t own.

Building a facility will not be cheap.

A February report by the city’s Office of Management and Finance reviewed a consultant’s report that pegged the total cost of the facility at $97 million to $120 million. The OMF report refers to those figures as a “low-confidence” estimate and notes the consultant appeared to omit or lowball such costs as the contractor’s profit, professional and technical fees, and contingency costs.

As is often the case with public-sector capital projects, it’s also unclear where the money for running the facility might come from.

“The cost estimates for ongoing operations and maintenance are also low-confidence estimates, and those estimates cannot be refined until key design issues are resolved,” says the OMF report.

If the center advances, it will represent one of the few building projects Potter has backed in a term spent largely on more process-oriented projects, such as visioning, charter reform and an initiative to improve city bureaus.

It will also be an opportunity for the mayor, who started public life 40 years ago as a beat cop, to repair a relationship with rank-and-file officers that has turned toxic.

“I don’t think he’s doing this to make the relationship better,” says Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association. “But it could be a very positive contribution that he leaves.”

Part of the rationale for the project is that it can serve up to a dozen other regional law enforcement agencies, including most of the large police departments and sheriffs’ offices in the metro region. They could share the center’s operating costs. And there’s another interesting coincidence of interests. Siting and funding the training facility in Scappoose could also bring closure for state Sen. Betsy Johnson, the Scappoose Democrat who battled for years to keep the land the bureau is eyeing from becoming a gravel mine.

In 2006, Glacier Northwest, the aggregate mining company that still holds title to the property, agreed to sell the land to a Johnson associate, developer Ed Freeman. (Johnson also helped Freeman acquire land to the west of the Scappoose Airport. See “Dirt, Cheap,” WW, June 27, 2007. Her failure to properly disclose those transactions led to her paying a $600 settlement to the state ethics commission last year.)

A 2007 appraisal pegged the value of the property Portland wants to buy at about $4,600 per acre. That could be an issue, because according to the appraisal, Freeman agreed to pay Glacier about twice that price in 2006 (Johnson and Freeman did not return messages).

But Potter is willing to move forward with land acquisition, a move that at least two of his council-mates back.

“If it’s a regional partnership with appropriate cost-sharing, it’s an idea that I can support,” says Commissioner Randy Leonard, who has battled Potter on everything from the Chávez street renaming to the 2007 ballot measure that would have strengthened the mayor’s post.

“Dan is sympathetic to the bureau’s need,” says Brendan Finn, chief of staff to Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “And he thinks going ahead and buying the land now is prudent.”

Final decisions on initial funding for the center and other budget items are expected to conclude by mid-May.

FACT: Although city officials are unsure how they might finance construction of the full facility, an OMF projection shows the cheapest option to be general obligation bonds. A $120 million facility would cost about $10 million in annual debt service, or about $75 in additional property tax on a $300,000 house.
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