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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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Jun 18

June 17, 2022

Posted on June 18, 2022 at 9:50 AM by Niyah Ross

The week began with a thoughtful look back and into the future of our downtown on Monday.   Council’s work session focused on the history, structure, and purpose of our Downtown Urban Renewal Districts as preparation to a consideration of our next steps.  

The Downtown district was established in 1968. It raises funds based on the growth of property tax above the “frozen” base of tax value.  Incremental increases in property tax revenue are diverted into the District’s account rather than into the General Fund.  The District has been renewed several times; and in 2016 was amended to increase the spending limit and designate new projects including the Farmer’s Market, improvements to the Park Blocks, investment in high speed fiber, and in the former LCC building at 1059 Willamette.  Council amended the ordinance again in 2020 to increase the allowable cap on spending for the Farmers’ Market.  All of the funds raised by the current district have been allocated to projects and the diversion of taxes into the district expires in 2024.   The question before Council is whether to renew the district, and potentially consider any other changes to the district – such as adjusting the boundaries that define downtown.

The list of possible investments is based on the Downtown Plan which was adopted in 2004.  Many of those projects are either completed, in process or no longer under consideration.  It’s an interesting conversation: The Urban Renewal District is controversial because it pulls funds away from the General Fund. At the same time, it has supported many crucial investments.  Downtown will always need investments to sustain a healthy neighborhood and economic and cultural core for the City – but the Urban Renewal District is only one of several tools available to Council to provide that ongoing investment. Staff will undertake conversations with stakeholders and the public to build a list and gauge interest in possible projects; and will also return to Council with a more in-depth review of the other economic tools available.

On Wednesday, Council approved a plan to engage stakeholders in feedback about the performance of the Interim Police Auditor.  Leah Pitcher served as Deputy Auditor and moved into the interim role when Mark Gissiner retired in early 2021.  It is time for Council to either decide to appoint her permanently to the role or engage in a search for a new auditor.

The second item was a discussion of a community survey.  The City has intended to conduct a broad community survey since 2019 but delayed the project through the pandemic.  The goal is to take the measure of the community’s sense of how well the city is serving their needs.  The responses will help inform our strategic planning process and new Priority Based Budgeting.  The information gleaned through the survey will contribute to Council’s strategic planning retreat in late September.

I want to close with a couple of positive notes.  One item of business on Monday night was to vote on the nominees to serve on the City’s boards and commissions.  There are only a few vacant seats each year, and this year, as in previous years, there was an embarrassment of riches.  There so many talented, smart, principled, engaging, community-minded people who are eager to do their best to serve our city.  Many thanks to all of the people who applied and congratulations to our new appointees.

And finally, I had the pleasure last night of attending Mobility International’s 40th anniversary celebration. This included an opportunity to congratulate the 23 members of this year’s class of WILD women. WILD stands for Womens’ institute for Leadership and Disability.  This program brings to Eugene women from all over the world who live with a range of disabilities.  The women participate in leadership workshops and empowering adventures while staying with host families.  They are awesome!  They are women surmounting physical barriers to live freely and independently and social barriers to be treated with respect and dignity as full human beings. And they set high goals for themselves – including running for parliament.   Several mentioned their desire to return to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon.  Susan Sygall, Founder of Mobility International, told me at the end of the night that these women will return to their homes describing Eugene “as paradise.” They had freedom of movement in our city and felt welcomed and appreciated wherever they went.

Hold that thought this weekend and take some time to enjoy the community that you have created.  One way to get in the mood is to savor the joyful events to celebrate Juneteenth – both at Alton Baker Park and downtown.