Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Redmond duffers; gas prices; studded tires - updated

Who knew that Redmond, Oregon, was such a golf mecca.

City officials seem to think so. First, the city helped pay for Juniper Golf Course to move to its new location south of the Redmond airport with a $6 million bond. It will now pony up another $600,000 on top of $300,000 last year.

Prior to the move, the municipal golf course had less than 450 members. After the move, membership cratered to roughly 130. Juniper now claims it has about 200 members.

Wow. That's one helluva subsidy for duffers to knock a ball around on a High Desert course.

Redmond has always struggled with priorities. It needed a new high school more than 20 years ago and finally will get one in 2012. It's needed a new public pool and fitness facility for years.

Part of the problem is that the city gobbles up most of the available tax revenue pie. Unlike Bend, which has a separate park and recreation department, the city of Redmond oversees the parks. Consequently, Redmond has too few parks and facilities for recreation.

Another problem is that Redmond subsidizes a number of businesses in the city, particularly near the airport. This means the tax burden shifts to residential homeowners who naturally vote against schools or anything else in Redmond.

Rather than throw money away on a golf course, Redmond would be better off building a new pool and fitness facility. The expansion of Juniper Swim and Fitness Center in Bend is paying for itself with increased use. The center in Bend is great. I worked out there this morning.

Instead of 200 or 400 members, a new pool and fitness facility in Redmond would easily have 4,000 members in that city with a population of roughly 25,000.

But, quality of life hasn't been a high priority in Redmond. Unless you golf. Obviously, too few do.

Meanwhile, gas prices continue to rise as more people drive. At the low end is Fred Meyer which cost $2.76 a gallon as of a couple of days ago. That's about 13 cents cheaper than the cheapest gas in Eugene, which we paid over the weekend. For years, Bend was known as having the highest gas prices in the state. We now have some of the lowest prices.

Oregon drivers, though, in spite of having someone pump your gas for you, spend less of their income at the pump than most other states. The Natural Resources Defense Council released a new study showing Oregon ranks 34th at 3.6 percent of income going to big oil.

Mississippi ranks a dubious first with 6 percent of income going out the tailpipe. Idaho is 10th at 4.54 percent of income. This study is more a reflection of lower-income states paying a greater share income for gasoline than high-income states, such as Connecticut, which ranked 50th at 2.52 percent of income going to the likes of ExxonMobil.

Still, for all the blather about how not having self-serve gas stations in Oregon leads to higher prices, well, that is bunk. Market forces determine the price of gas. Always have, always will.

Speaking of driving, the state, as usual, extended the season for the use of studded tires from April 1 until April 11. This happens almost every year because we get late season storms that dump a ton of snow in the Cascades, where driving over the passes can be treacherous.

But this story carries less interest today because more and more drivers are switching to studless snow tires. Costco only sells studless snow tires. It stopped selling the studded variety a few years ago. Studless tires allow drivers to put the tires on when needed and take them off when they're not. There is no deadline. Plus, in almost all winter driving conditions, they're better. I've used them for about 5 years now and I've never had a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Studded-tire use has been blamed for the rutted and deteriorating roads throughout the state. However, it is the weight of heavy trucks that do more than 90 percent of the damage to our roads.

And yet, if there was one driver out there with studded tires, he or she would get the blame for destroying our roads. The studded tire canard is, well, tiresome. It's time to get a new villain.

update -

Good story here about how commodity speculators are driving up the price of gasoline again. Aren't free markets beautiful? Not!

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