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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Sep 24

September 24, 2021

Posted on September 24, 2021 at 7:23 PM by Niyah Ross

This was a very full week of significant discussions.  It began with an opening work session reviewing the City’s financial status and projections; a review of the proposed Ward redistricting scenarios based on the 2020 Census; and a 90-minute discussion of our progress and pathway in meeting our climate goals.

 

On our financial status, staff noted that factors that support a national or statewide economic recovery do not impact our municipal income –increased income taxes due to job growth aren’t a local revenue source; the lack of a sales tax and the constitutional limit on property taxes deprive or limit those revenue sources from supporting our city government.  Strong pre-pandemic growth of over 5%, that was bolstered locally by the marijuana tax and Comcast fees, fell to 1.5% growth for FY 20-22 during the pandemic.  Looking forward, the City projects that without further reductions in expenses, we will deplete our reserves and face a deficit.  As you know, unlike the federal government, the City cannot have a deficit budget – we are looking at reductions in the forecast for the coming six years.

 

We have funded some pressing needs – our response to homelessness, climate, and downtown with one-time funds: sustaining those efforts will require identifying ongoing funds.  This coming week, the Council will receive a briefing on the options for allocating the federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds; and the budget committee will reconvene for a series of meetings in October. In December, Council will review and vote on options as part of the Supplemental Budget process in which the City can adjust spending based on the updated revenue and expenditures of the first six months of the fiscal year.

 

After this very challenging conversation, Council reviewed a pair of scenarios to adjust ward boundaries in response to 2020 Census data.  This is a 10-year cycle: after every census, Council determines its framework for making boundary changes with a goal of maintaining approximately equally sized wards by population.  In this case, the shifts are fairly small and of limited impact.  Wards 7 and 3  have seen the most growth; and both scenarios suggest shifting ward boundaries to slice small census sections out of Ward 7 and adding them into Wards 6 and 8; and out of Ward 3 and into Wards 1 and 2.  There is also a proposed shift from Ward 5 into Ward 4. The public is invited to comment on these scenarios and can view the proposals here: https://www.eugene-or.gov/4702/Census-and-Ward-Boundary

 

Finally, on Wednesday, staff provided a detailed overview of our progress on meeting our climate goals. The work is multifaceted, and the presentation began with an overview of the Climate Recovery Ordinance and the work of the Sustainability Program.  Much of this information is available in the Sustainability Program’s new newsletter: Eugene Climate Connection: https://spark.adobe.com/page/pXOvCm2t8VzQR/

The bulk of the work session reviewed the twelve additional strategies that Council approved as part of the CAP 2.0.  When the CAP 2.0 was passed, it was clear that with full implementation of all of the strategies, the plan would only meet 40% of our reduction targets.  The additional strategies were adopted to deepen our reductions of fossil fuel use and GHG emissions. Three of the twelve are associated with our ongoing negotiations with NW Natural, including requiring wider adoption of the company’s Smart Energy Program, regulation of natural gas infrastructure, and replacing natural gas with biogas.  Council direction to staff to act on those is pending on the negotiations, and I expect an update on that status in November. There are five strategies that are in process and also needing additional funding: home energy scores, energy efficiency and switching to electricity, implementing the Electric Vehicle Strategy, reducing refrigerants f loss; and implementation of the 20-year Transportation

 

System Plan.  All of those will come back for more data, updates, and potential action in meetings in November, December, and January. Three strategies include a community innovation fund which is in place and open for applications by neighborhood associations; lobbying for state and federal action which is ongoing; and capturing biogas.  The latter is already in place through a biogas capture for renewal fuel project of the Metropolitan Wastewater Commission.  Finally, the purchase of offsets has already been used to help the City meet its internal reduction target for 2020; and could be used to meet community wide goals.

 

So what’s ahead? There is increasing pressure to move forward on alternatives to natural gas.  On Monday, Council will meet jointly with the EWEB Board when we will discuss the utility’s recent report covering the cost of and potential for adoption of EVs and electric heat pumps for heating buildings.  The Council is seeking insight into the capacity of the utility to meet our needs for heating and cooling buildings if we advocate for or mandate electrification; and to understand the potential for electrification of our transportation system in terms of charging stations.

 

As we roll into the fall, we will also enter a focused conversation on the City’s proposed code changes to comply with HB 2001, requiring us to allow more duplexes and other “middle” housing types.  These issues are aligned: as we increase our diverse and more compact housing types, we have an opportunity to also shift our energy source for heating. There has already been a year of public engagement on HB 2001 to inform the staff’s first draft; it will go first to the Planning Commission and then to Council.  There has been and will be robust opportunities for public comment – and it is a great opportunity for us to walk the talk on addressing climate change and our housing shortage through one significant action.