LEBANON — This year has been up and down for the city of Lebanon, Mayor Paul Aziz told a full house during the monthly Chamber of Commerce lunch forum Friday.
“We’ve had some good times and some tough times in the past year,” Aziz said.
The tough times include facing an unexpected $500,000 shortfall in the city budget and having to cut staffing by 10 percent without a city manager in place.
“Managers and staff worked together to identify the cuts,” Aziz said. “That included eliminating the assistant city manager’s position.”
Aziz said the council members are working well together.
“We don’t always agree on things, but we are all respectful of each other,” Aziz said.
All city council meetings are recorded and uploaded onto YouTube, Aziz said.
“So far, there have been 2,656 views for a total of 14,597 minutes,” Aziz said. “That’s 243 hours. I am very pleased with that.”
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Aziz said the city police department website has 1,500 likes, or followers, and the city has 758.
“To me, that says people are interested in what’s going on in our town,” Aziz said.
Aziz said he and fellow councilors appreciate the detailed monthly activity report presented by City Manager Gary Marks. The public can view that report on the city’s website as well.
The city completed a water customer survey this year and customer service service surveys are available on all reception counters throughout the city.
There was no water rate increase in 2013 and a 4 percent increase this year.
Aziz summarized the city’s negotiations with the city of Albany over the Albany-Santiam Canal and expenses associated with its maintenance. He said Albany City Manager Wes Hare will be at the council’s Nov. 12 meeting to talk further about that issue.
“We have paid all past due accounts,” Aziz said.
Aziz said the current city budget is about $41 million, but the city only has a 7 to 8 percent contingency fund.
“That’s way too low,” Aziz said. “It really needs to be about 20 percent.”
From an economic development standpoint, Aziz said the city must continue to market its numerous shovel reading industrial sites, think outside the box and initiate its long-term 2040 visioning process.
“The LBCC bond issue that’s on the current ballot includes funding to assist with development of the second building for COMP-Northwest, a nursing college and to add a diesel technology building at the Advanced Transportation Technologies and Energy Center,” Aziz said. “We’re also in discussions with a couple of large commercial projects, but it’s too early to talk about them.”
He said the community recently welcomed Uncle Doc’s Diner, Momiji’s and the Growler Cafe in the downtown area.
“The Samaritan Center has been open for about a year and the Boulder Falls Inn hotel/restaurant/bar is well under way,” he said.
He said Rick Franklin’s excursion trains to Sweet Home have been going well, and several trips are planned for the fall and winter.
Immediate future activities include creating an updated community disaster plan, developing emergency warming shelters for the homeless, moving city council meetings to a facility that’s more citizen friendly and building a new City Hall.
Marks said he has been on the job eight months and was proud to announce that he and his wife were now Lebanon home owners.
Marks outlined the 2040 visioning process that’s under way in the community.
He said the only way for a community to move forward is to know where it’s headed and the process is designed to develop a road map and actual plan on how to get there.
A Portland area native, Marks said he is excited to return to Oregon after several years away, most recently in Idaho.
Marks said he told the council member when he was interviewed that it would be wrong for him to talk about a vision for a community he knew little about. He said the long-term vision must be shared among all segments of the community.
The council recently hired a BDS Planning and Urban Development to guide the process, but he emphasized this is not a City Council effort alone, it must be a community-wide commitment to succeed.
“It’s a living document and we must be flexible,” Marks said. “In five years, things will surely change and we must change to reflect that as well.”
Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.