Issues and answers: Silverton’s mayoral candidates share their views

October 2012 Posted in News

Editor’s note: Our Town presented the four candidates running for Silverton mayor on the Nov. 6 ballot a series of questions and asked for written responses. These are the unabridged responses.

What does urban renewal mean to Silverton and is it effective?

Rasmussen: Urban Renewal was supposed to allow funding of renovation of privately owned ‘blighted’ areas to improve property values and increase property tax revenue. So far it has failed miserably and about 90 percent of the money spent on Urban Renewal projects has gone to public projects that are not taxable entities and therefore do not increase property values or tax revenue.

Palmer: The Silverton Urban Renewal Agency is an important tool available to our city during the kind of economic times that would make any other improvements difficult or impossible. Although the potential uses for urban renewal can be many, my own concept of how to use this tool is fairly specific. I am willing to use a specific amount of URA funds to help finance infrastructure improvements to the district – and preferably those improvements which directly benefit the business interests in the district itself.  I am willing to use a limited amount of URA funds to provide small, cooperative grants to businesses that are willing to make a significant investment in their building that will, in turn, repay the district with higher property values. I am also willing to use URA funds to stimulate economic development in various other ways.  Our URA program has been effective in my opinion, though it is still in relative infancy.  We would not have been able to signalize intersections at Water and First without URA funds and those improvements were critical to the health of our traffic flow to and from our business community.  We have also awarded a few grants that have resulted in successful improvements to privately owned buildings and have helped create business success in some areas in which we were lacking. It is important to remember that Urban Renewal funds come only from the district and only from the natural increase in property value that would otherwise just go to a different taxing district.

Squires: Urban renewal can be effective if used in the right way. Many people seem not to understand that urban renewal dollars are tax dollars, not free money. Silverton leaders are now trying to use urban renewal money to hide the fact that the general fund has run dry. I am in favor of using urban renewal dollars only if the city is honest with residents and puts large dollar urban renewal projects up for a vote in general elections. If voters approve, go for it. If they turn it down, accept the fact that taxpayers are feeling the pinch of the recession and so should the city.

Walker: State law is very specific about how moneys are collected for Urban Renewal but very general on how it is used, other than the moneys have to be spent in the plan area.  The Plan Area and the Spending Plan are approved by and can be modified by the Urban Renewal Agency Board.  The agency board is the city council.  In the past these moneys have been spent on the “C” Street stop lights, purchase of the 13 acre Westfield and Main property  from the School Board, the purchase and installation of wayfaring signs, and  grants to property  owners for capital improvements. If the intent of Urban Renewal Is to increase the value of properties in the plan area, the  acquisition of the property for $1.5 million and the stop lights for about a half million dollars are not effective uses of those funds.  If one regards Urban Renewal money as simply money, the standard of effectiveness becomes the best use of tate money. Although I was not involved in those decisions and am not aware of all the issues, I believe use of the funds for the property and stop lights were questionable.

Where do you stand on the pool levy and why?

Rasmussen: I support the pool (and I will probably be voting for the pool levy) but I believe the ballot question should have been to start a special district to fund the pool independently of city property tax dollars and with a larger geographic base for support, thereby reducing the tax rate everyone currently pays.

Palmer: As an individual, I support the pool levy – it’s an important component of our community and provides many services. Our community will suffer the loss of the pool should the levy fail, and after studying 20 years of operations, I believe it can’t operate without voter or city support.  As a City Councilor, I assumed a leadership role in meeting with stakeholders who would make a recommendation to the council on how to proceed – I believe that there is no better means in which to gauge public support than a ballot measure.  As of November 6, we will know what the pool means to our community, and if it should continue to be a city priority once this economic downturn is over.

Squires: The pool is a good example of the amenities that make Silverton a unique small town. Unfortunately, it is used by only a small percentage of Silverton residents. I would prefer a system in which users would pay for a higher percentage of the pool’s costs rather than having the general population subsidize the few people who use it.  I am also in favor of a seasonal (summer) pool, instead of a costly year round pool. However, I am pleased that the city council has asked for a vote rather than making a decision without community input.

Walker: If the levy passes, the levied funds will be directed to the year round operation of the pool. I believe that if the levy fails, based on the city’s consultants report, that the pool will be a self-supporting as a summertime operation if it is well managed.  My public position is neither for nor against the pool levy. If our citizens are fully informed about the consequences of their vote, they don’t need some elected official telling them how to vote.  On a personal level, my wife and I are still discussing how to vote on this issue.

What should be the city’s role in the future of The Oregon Garden?

Rasmussen: We are joined a the hip to the Oregon Garden – we use the land for final treatment of our sewage effluent. Our current arrangement of having a private entity manage and operate the Garden is working reasonably well but tourist attractions like the Garden are not doing well generally in the current economy. We should work with Garden management to make it more attractive to a wider audience and figure out a way to more actively promote it without spending more than we receive in benefit. We need to encourage more ‘cross-pollination’ between the Garden and local businesses.

Palmer: The city is many things to the Oregon Garden.  We are the landlord, and we depend on the facility as a means to treat our affluent waste. While there can be endless debate about what the previous council should or should not have done to create the Garden years ago, it is a reality that we can’t ignore now or in the future. Though it’s not always government’s responsibility to stimulate business, many Silverton surveys have indicated that our residents do want the city to help in this area.  Because of our many connections to the Garden, it remains in our best interests to help it succeed, both for the reasons above, but also for the economic vitality that it has helped provide to Silverton.  It is vital that the City of Silverton not be placed in the position of either running that Garden publicly, or left with the task of upkeep should the Garden close.  For those reasons, it is important that we do everything short of spending money to help the Garden succeed.

Squires: Unfortunately, the Oregon Garden has been a drain on Silverton resources. It has been suggested that we divest ourselves of our interest in the Garden and turn it completely over to Moonstone.  If we are tied to the Garden because of previous commitments and because of the sewage issue, we should much more vigorously promote Silverton as the gateway to both the Oregon Garden and Silver Falls so we can reap the benefit of tourist dollars. Currently, Marion County is making Oregon Garden default bond payments, from lottery funds.

Walker: The city’s relationship with the Oregon Garden is very complex.  This complexity creates a bonding that will be difficult to escape.  I believe the city should support the Garden in every way except for providing additional financial assistance.

What needs to be done to ensure the city’s fiscal stability?

Rasmussen: We must stop spending more money than we receive. We’ve been dipping into savings to finance ongoing operations and siphoning off taxpayer money to fund Urban Renewal boondoggles. The next budget will require some hard-headed business decisions to correct previous mistakes. Voters in this election must select fiscally prudent, common sense councilors who will be part of the solution, not those candidates from the past who created the problems in the first place.

Palmer: We must limit the expense of funds that can be used for the general health of the city and help our many partner organizations understand that the city can’t continue our previous levels of support during these times. There is no “smoking gun” cure to our city budget, but I believe that the conservative policies in place in each city department, the stated goal of no expansion of our labor force as well as analysis of the need to replace naturally vacant positions, and the fact that we have put together a budget that can be underspent, all point to the fact that we can slowly come out of this difficult economy without significantly limiting the vital services of the city.  That said, there are multiple funds that can only be used for specific purposes (parks funds, sewer and water funds, urban renewal funds) and we must continue to invest those funds wisely in our future.  We have very real infrastructure projects that have funding now and can’t be put off forever – it’s important that the public understands that those funds can’t be used to stabilize the general health of our budget.    That general health will only be improved by careful analysis of each fund, each expense, and the courage to say “we just can’t do this right now.”

Squires: This is a difficult problem. It’s too easy to just say “Stop spending,” because our infrastructure is $33 million behind. Fiscal stability will require both frugality and a vastly increased tax base. The city needs to vigorously recruit new businesses, especially to fill our industrial park. We need to avoid frivolous expenditures, such as the recent Street Scape fiasco and use our tax dollars, both general fund and urban renewal, only on projects that truly benefit the community.

Walker: In order to achieve financial stability the city needs to reduce its spending. Some of these reductions in general fund expenditures may cut critical services. I believe that in the future, the city may be coming to the citizens with an operating levy for the police services.  The citizens may have to decide which services and operating levies are most important.

What is the appropriate role of the mayor in Silverton?

Rasmussen: The Mayor is the most visible of elected officials in the community, but is only one vote on a council of seven members. The mayor should lead the council and community toward solutions for our problems with intelligence and imagination. Sometimes that means taking a leadership role, often it is being able to recognize good ideas from within the community and implement them in a cost effective manner. Sometimes the role of mayor is to get in the way of projects that are not in the best interest of the whole community and bring them out for public discussion.

Palmer: In my opinion, a Mayor has two roles – to act as a legislative member of the council, advocating a position and voting accordingly; AND to serve as the head of our elected government.  In the latter role, a Mayor MUST be willing to step outside of politics on a regular basis and ensure that the public has all of the facts. There are times (usually during a public outcry) when the Mayor alone has the power to refocus the passion on both sides of an issue and ensure that the process is one of respectful debate, consensus, and compromise, rather than one of conflict.  If a Mayor is unable or unwilling to rise above his or her own political agenda when needed, the process is certain to suffer as a result. Further, as the head of our council, the Mayor must be willing to meet regularly with city staff, regional mayors, and other economic partners. I plan to do so.

Squires: I see the mayor fulfilling several important roles, including these three. (1) The mayor should be the cheerleader for citizen involvement and open communication. An involved citizenry will support both austerity measures and truly necessary improvement projects. The mayor should be the voice of the people when dealing with the city council, the urban renewal committee, and the planning commission. (2) The mayor should also b e the city’s best promoter and Ambassador. The mayor should be at the forefront of the city’s effort to promote tourism and the city’s reputation as a great place to live and conduct business. I see the mayor going out wherever and whenever possible to beat the drum of Silverton as the best little city in Oregon. (3) The mayor should lead in the recruitment of new businesses.

Walker: Silverton has a weak mayor form of government.  As a legal matter the mayor chairs the council meetings and signs documents.  In a broader context, the mayor is the face of the city and as the highest elected official, speaks in behalf of the city.  This is the most important role for the mayor of Silverton.

What would you do to attract new businesses to town? support existing businesses?

Rasmussen: I am already an ambassador for Silverton in recruiting new businesses and employers to the community. I have attended numerous high-tech, clean industry conventions and events and promoted our community wherever I go. We have to recognize our strengths when we recruit business and get a good fit. We also must make Silverton more ‘business friendly’ by lowering the government-imposed cost of starting a business and encouraging existing community members to start entrepreneurial enterprises.

Palmer: Once again, this is not typically the responsibility of government, but in Silverton there is an expectation of the city’s involvement. First, proper infrastructure must be in place to support business – a viable downtown district as well as other commercial and industrial zones; good traffic flow; and the presence of city services.  As a city, we must be willing to consider the temporary suspension or reduction of some development fees – it’s been common among other cities during these times and would help in some cases. A strong relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and regional economic partners is necessary for a healthy business community.  We have that now. In the past few years we have seen a sharp increase in private investment in our business community. Major businesses that started as incubator operations, revitalization of downtown buildings, new starter operations, and a renewed interest among our anchor businesses to help us grow, have all contributed to what is a community on the right track. The only thing missing is a more regional approach on the part of the Mayor’s office to meet with other local officials and help develop more partnerships.

Squires: I have already been working to attract new businesses, particularly to the industrial park, and am scheduled to attend an economic summit conference next week. Because I am retired I will have time to go to more such events, gather recruitment strategies, seek out prospective businesses owners and start-ups, and promote Silverton as the dynamic, business-friendly community that it is. A community task force will be formed to help with that effort. Current business owners will be invited to join a joint city/business committee to ensure open communication and deal with problems and projects that impact our community.

Walker: For new non-retail businesses, I support clarifying existing permitted uses and reducing conditional uses.  In terms of supporting existing businesses, the city has to have an active listening program that understands their concerns.  I would like the city government to report to council those businesses concerns and the city’s response to their issues.

Anything else you would add?

Rasmussen: I am probably the most available and accessible candidate for mayor. When people want to talk city business they can find me easily and I listen attentively to their suggestions and concerns.  I have been elected to the Silverton City Council 3 times, serving 12 years as councilor, elected Mayor 4 times serving 8 years and a 4-year term on the Silver Falls Library Board – That’s 24 years of experience as an elected public officer, plus I’ve been in business in Silverton as a self-employed entrepreneur since 1964: 48 years in business as an owner- not an employee. In that time I’ve worked with many individuals and groups to accomplish shared goals. That’s by far the best record of any candidate on the ballot.

The next two years won’t be easy as Mayor and painful changes may be required. I believe it’s past time to send City Hall a clear message: Stop squandering our tax dollars! If you honor me with your vote to be your Mayor again, please also vote for council candidates who will really deliver fiscal responsibility.

Palmer: I’m not running for this position because of any conflict with our current Mayor (or with any of my opponents), or because I have significant opposition to their ideas.  In fact, I would welcome the diversity that each would bring to this process as City Councilors.  I’m running for Mayor solely because I believe I can raise the standard of leadership in Silverton and provide a process that is open to all opinions, that is inclusive of all members of the public (not just those I agree with), and can transcend conflict in order to provide the cooperation and consensus needed to make sound, logical decisions.  I have a proven track record in helping diverse opinions become the decisions that will stand the test of time and public scrutiny.

Squires: I don’t claim to have all the right answers, but I do know what has not worked for our community. The city is currently broke, and that’s after taking 400,000 thousand dollars from the sewer fund, and an additional 450,000 thousand dollars from urban renewal agency to just make ends meet. The city borrowed 1.2 million dollars from the sewer fund to purchase the Petit property, which is now for sale. The city’s best offer has been $500.000 thousand dollars for the petit property. Now, the city also wants to spend over $450,000 thousand dollars for the main street “STREETSCAPES PROJECT” with borrowed money from urban renewal agency.

Walker: People in other towns in the valley ask me what is in the water in Silverton water that causes our local politics to be so bitter and personal.  I tell them that it isn’t the water but rather some local politicians.  Kyle Palmer comes in third in the 2010 mayoral race and calls for a “censure” of the winner for what the winner had said during the election campaign.  If Silverton can’t have free speech during an election, in what country do we live?  Former Mayor Hector comes to council and launches a personal attack against myself over an event which did not occur and which he had no personal knowledge.  The alleged crime was that I had given the finger to someone at the park (free speech).  After a $13,000 (general fund) investigation the charge was not substantiated.

It is up to the citizens, voting in this election, to decide whether this kind of politics continues.

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