Sound off: Money poorly spent on Pioneer Way

By Fred Henninger

City government’s function is to wisely spend tax money for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.

The re-re-redevelopment plan for Pioneer Way fails because of two problems.

First is the physical layout. Pioneer Way is the only level and direct route between the tax-free stores on the east end of town to big box stores on the west end. There is a steep hill on the north side and a mud flat on the south side.

To ameliorate this problem in the late 60s and early 70s, the city built the “Flintstone” street to connect Midway with Dock Street. At the merchants’ request, a mini-harbor was dredged out so that boat people could stop and shop downtown. The dredge spoils were used to fill in the water between Pioneer and “Flintstone.” This area is still vacant and the mini-harbor has filled with silt.

In latter years, three parks and three parking lots were added by the taxpayers to entice shoppers to this area (thankfully, the pier project for ghost ships was not added also).

Trees, hanging baskets and pedestrian safety features have made this area a pleasant setting to dine and shop. It does not need a $6 million makeover.

The second problem with the Pioneer improvement plan is the socioeconomic considerations. Changing of occupancy to buildings in this area of the city is constant. Successful businesses move out. Banks, retail offices, restaurants, auto sales and services, all left for more space and access. Many businesses just died but some small restaurants, stores and offices carry on. The most venerable of these are the Harbor Light and Oak Harbor taverns.

None of the people who own or operate businesses pay taxes or utility bills. Their businesses pay and add this expense as a deduction from their profits. Residents must pay the fees from their take-home pay.

Two-thirds of present business between City Beach Street and Midway are on Pioneer’s north side. The south side requires a two-story structure to reach street level where parking space is limited. This, together with much vacant commercial real estate, does not bode well for future growth of this area. The city estimate for “the basic project” is $5.5 million. With many options still not known, $6 million may be a stopping point.

Let’s do the math: $6 million divided by 20,000 (Oak Harbor population) equals $300 per person; $6 million divided by 60 merchants in this area equals $100,000 each. Who receives the most benefit?

A lineal foot of five-foot-wide sidewalk is $70. Curb and gutter is $25. The addition of trees and hanging baskets, like on Pioneer, is worth $5. This equals $528,000 per mile or 11.23 miles for $6 million plus the tax. Eleven miles of sidewalk would be a nice addition to our sidewalk plans.

Remember, this project is after the number one priority which is the pier project and/or the marina project.

Instead of any of these expensive projects that target small, noisy factions of the population, the funds should be spent for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens in the neighborhoods where the tax money is generated.

Fred Henninger has lived in Oak Harbor for many years.

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