It was a full week for Council meetings on a number of long-standing projects.
At Monday’s work session, council considered their options for renewing the local option levy to support library programming. This levy was initially passed five years ago to support services that could not be funded with General Fund dollars. It includes additional hours for the branch libraries in Bethel and Sheldon, additional weekend hours downtown, programming for early literacy, and greater access to technology. Under one option, these services would be maintained, although the tax rate would be slightly reduced, from .17 to .15. In a second option, “Maintain and Recover”, programming would be expanded to offer additional services to support educational and employment tools and increased virtual programming to support people during the continuing COVID shut down.
This second option would retain the .17 tax rate. Council directed staff to create two ordinances reflecting each of these options for a vote on July 27.
Also, on Monday, Council considered and voted on an ordinance related to Short Term Rentals. The ordinance calls for the creation of an annual registry to include information about the location and ownership of the rental. Council opted not to pursue a more regulatory approach at this time.
On Wednesday, Council moved to send a proposal to public hearing regarding the redevelopment of the former LCC building at 1059 Willamette. The building is part of the Downtown Urban Renewal District and was purchased by the City from LCC in April using federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The city proposes to redevelop the site into multi-family housing including a minimum of 51% affordable units for people earning 80% of area median income. With the passage of the motion, the City will schedule a public hearing and begin a public engagement process.
Council had another chance on Wednesday to clarify components of the Climate Action Plan 2.0 which will return for final approval on July 29th. There were questions about natural gas, some of which will be answered next week with the upcoming discussion of the negotiations with Northwest Natural franchise renewal.
And finally, Council received a sobering briefing about the city’s financial picture. Specific sources of revenue have been hit hard by the pandemic, such as parking income and ambulance transport system. The City has been poised to take advantage of a State offer to match 25% of our investment to pay down PERS indebtedness with an investment of $8 million. Our financial picture reduces our capacity to do that. The decision rests with the City Manager who will have to make this decision while Council is out of session in August.
Throughout the week, I have continued to talk to people about racial justice and police reform. I have been asking people the same question: “How do you think we should turn the corner from protest demands to engagement in local solutions?” The answer, in various forms, has been the same: we need more dialogue. Testifying in forum and public hearing feels one-way and frustrating. On Monday, Council has a 90-minute work session on this topic. While there is not an opportunity for public comment that night, my hope is that council will take steps on Monday to address specific policy issues and engage the public in a dialog that enables us to move forward. It is important to all of us to get this right.