Oakridge, a poor town in Oregon with dreams of becoming a major destination for mountain biking, has found itself in big financial trouble.

[A]ll of Oakridge’s 3,205 residents will shoulder the costs of an unexplained $420,000 hole in the city’s budget, a figure that is sure to grow and that by itself represents nearly half of all the property tax revenue this town takes in each year. The city must borrow $500,000 against future tax revenue just to pay its bills for the next six months, after allowing its bank account to be drained, plummeting from nearly $1.4 million in 2009 to less than $200,000 in June of this year.

“That’s $65,000 a month you’re overdrawing your account,” James Affa, a member of the city’s finance committee and a vocal critic of [city administrator Gordon] Zimmerman, said at a recent council meeting. “This is an incredible amount of money.”
It’s not just a bookkeeping issue when a town of this size and in these economic straits winds up short $420,000 — or more. The city is investigating whether to raise water rates to help close the fiscal gap, to the outrage of residents who have literally screamed at city officials in recent meetings that they can’t afford rate increases when Social Security hasn’t seen a cost-of-living increase in three years.

The shortfall developed on the watch of a city administrator who admits he should have done things differently. He has not resigned, and Oakridge residents have initiated a recall process against the town’s mayor and three city councilors who refuse to fire him. The recall election will be held next month.

No matter the outcome, residents will probably not find out what happened to the money. There are too many gaps and discrepancies in the information even to finish the 2008-9 audit.