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Election 2022: Silverton candidates participate in two-hour forum

By James Day

Silverton’s two mayoral candidates and six of the seven City Council hopefuls took part in a two-hour public forum on Oct. 18 at the Palace Theater.

The event was hosted by the Silverton Discourse Project, with Our Town reporter Stephen Floyd serving as the moderator. Approximately 100 residents attended, some munching popcorn from the Palace concession stand.

Candidates answered questions from Floyd and audience members in a fast-paced event that included topics such as water and other infrastructure, housing, growth, police issues and parks. The tone was civil throughout, with several participants coming to the defense of council candidate Eric Hammond when an audience question targeted him for a comment at a previous forum.

The evening also featured a Teddy Roosevelt impersonation by council candidate Gregg Harris, which drew the strongest audience response of the evening.

Nearly 100 residents turned out Oct. 18 to listen to the council and mayoral candidates at the Palace Theater.
Nearly 100 residents turned out Oct. 18 to listen to the council and mayoral candidates at the Palace Theater.

Afterward, Mayor Kyle Palmer, who was present at the forum, posted a 3,500-word Facebook response to address “misstatements made during the recent community forums.” More on Palmer’s concerns below.

Harris, Hammond, Marie Traeger, Jenny Ohren, April Newton, Chuck Hawley and Makai Brusa are the seven council candidates vying for three spots on the Nov. 8 ballot. There are no incumbents in the race. Hawley could not be present due to an out-of-town trip. 

Morry Jones and Jason Freilinger are each seeking the mayor’s spot being vacated by the outgoing Palmer.

All candidates, whether mayoral or council, responded to the same set of questions, with housing and growth dominating.

Candidate comments on growth and afforabilty

Jones, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, called for a mix of housing types and smaller homes. Jones, as did other participants, called for lowering the system development charges developers pay for smaller homes. He also noted that “we’re not going to be able to reduce costs too much… It’s Silverton.”

“Everybody wants to live in Silverton,” said Brusa, who works for the Oregon Youth Authority. “That’s great, but everybody can’t afford it.”

Brusa noted the challenge of rising home insurance costs and said “it’s a problem that is going to take the effort of all of the community.”

“We already have a problem with homelessness,” horticulturist Hammond noted, “and closing the door won’t help people.”

Hammond praised the council for agreeing to use $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help Sheltering Silverton set up pallet shelters and a warming building for winter.

“I believe in the free market,” said Harris, who owns Silver Falls Terrariums. He asked for a show of hands of those in the audience who own rentals. He then asked whether would be willing to lower the rents to make housing more affordable.

“We want to lower the cost of housing by using other people’s money,” he said. “We need to remove obstacles to building houses. That is my position. I hope I haven’t lost the election already.”

“It’s a complicated issue,” said Newton, who has served four terms on the city’s Budget Committee. “And it will take all of us to solve.”

Newton noted that the city has an affordable housing task force working on the issue and raised the issue of state mandates that can reduce local control.

Ohren, who works in the social service and health fields, said she lives in a rental home and also rents out a room to a relative.

“Tenants and others need to be involved in the effort to promote low-income housing,” she suggested.

Traeger, a long-time Silverton-area teacher and currently a corrections counselor, suggested that the city pay attention to the work of the task force. She noted that even if the city emphasizes smaller houses and lots “there’s still going to someone out there willing to pay $30,000 more than the asking price.”

Freilinger, who serves as chair of the housing task force, said that the group has a 40-point checklist. 

“We’re working our way through the list, and I’m not going to promise you we are suddenly going to make housing affordable,” he said. “Market forces are the overarching factor.”

Hawley, whose travels also prevented him from participating in a Sept. 28 forum at the Oregon Garden, submitted a statement for the Palace forum.

He noted a strong feeling for the underdog and said “we have an affordable housing issue in our town that needs to be dealt with. Some of our most vulnerable residents are being forced out of the town they call home, because they can’t afford to stay. We need to do something about that. That will also be one of my main focuses as a city council member.”

Palmer, in his Facebook response, addressed water first, noting that “Silverton is absolutely not running out of water” while also adding that “we are not growing our way into a water shortage.”

He added that average daily water use was higher in 2015 than it was in 2021, despite the intervening growth that has occurred. Several of the candidates expressed concerns about water rates and future supply issues.

Pool levy also on the ballot 

Also on the ballot is Measure 24-473 which if approved would renew the city’s local option property tax levy that pays for pool maintenance and operations. This is the third renewal of the levy, which raises $1.375 million for five years. The rate of 28.45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value is not changing. That means a property owner with an assessment of $300,000 would pay $85.35 per year for the pool. Passage of the levy does not represent a tax increase. The levy pays for about $275,000 of the approximately $1 million pool budget.

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