Our final week of council meetings for 2017 was packed with important conversations and decisions.
On Monday, the 11th, Council reviewed their commitment to implementing an auditor function in principle, and specifically their concerns about the auditor initiative that is on the May ballot. Of the seven councilors present, six stated their support for the creation of an auditor role. As for the initiative, there are concerns about the cost, the lack of a residency requirement, a run-off provision, or citizen oversight for this role. They made no decision to act on those concerns and I have left it to them to determine if they would like a follow-up discussion.
The discussion is critical – both for council and for the public – to scrutinize and understand the choice before us. The initiative proponents have described our discussions as “interference.” To the contrary, it is the job of elected leaders to discuss policy in public meetings. The proposal to create a third branch of government with funds that are not subject to review by the citizen budget committee has long term consequences. Responsible decision-making is based in deliberative, thoughtful discussion, and I will continue to lead that conversation, whether or not council brings it back to a work session.
Later that evening, council completed a number of critical annual decisions, including accepting the audit for the past fiscal year. This December process is important because it gives the city and council an opportunity to designate additional or new funding mid-year for key projects under what’s known as the Supplemental Budget. This year’s supplemental appropriations include issues of critical concern including: support to fund the ongoing work to implement the Climate Recovery Ordinance, additional funds for Downtown projects and parks cleanup, continued support for the Community Court that diverts mostly homeless adults in community service and connects them to nonprofit support services, and adds funding for our Dusk to Dawn program to shelter 80 homeless adults.
Council also received an update on the city’s strategies for meeting the need for winter shelter for the homeless, which have expanded 20 beds at Dusk to Dawn and additional car camping for families. You can read the full report, “Addressing Homelessness,” on the city’s website: here.
We also received a robust update on the city’s response to the burgeoning rat population, particularly in the Friendly neighborhood. The city responds to complaints and will enhance public information efforts to encourage property owners to contain their compost and chicken feed, both of which supply the rats with easy food sources. The city may also speed up implementation of the city’s food composting for the Friendly neighborhood. More information will be coming.
On Wednesday, the council received encouraging updates about progress on the riverfront development and information about the Construction Excise Tax (CET). Much work is happening behind the scenes in planning for development of the property the city is purchasing from EWEB. Williams and Dame, developers from Portland, are scoping out the initial designs, which include two “great streets” along 5th and 8th Avenues that will connect downtown to the river. The city will develop a new three-acre park, and is also retaining ownership of the former steam plant to be renovated for some as-yet undetermined purpose. In 2018, reports on the work will become regular monthly updates for the council.
In response to council questions last spring about a possible CET to help fund affordable housing projects, staff brought back recommendations from the Housing Policy Board encouraging council to implement a 1% tax on building permits for any commercial or residential construction that adds either new buildings or expands the footprint of existing buildings. A broader community conversation is now beginning with a range of stakeholders. Staff committed to bringing back more information to council in 90 days.
Council is now on break. We’ll return for the State of the City on Thursday, January 4th, at 5:30 pm in the Soreng Theater of the Hult Center. Our first council meeting of the new year will begin at 5:30 on January 8th.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!