North 11th Street and Pioneer Street sign
The City Council intends to continue its discussion of a proposed local improvement district for North 11th Street during a work session in January. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Planning Commission tasked with deeper dive on how city should pay for public improvements

A discussion on the proposed formation of a local improvement district to pay for North 11th Street improvements will continue at a January work session, the Philomath City Council decided during its Monday regular meeting. At the same time, the council also has asked the Planning Commission to take a deep dive on the broader question of LIDs and how to finance public improvements in the future.

In a meeting that lasted about 3 hours, 20 minutes, the discussion on LIDs and the North 11th Street matter went on for two hours. The discussion got going with a motion by Councilor Catherine Biscoe to direct the Public Works Committee to continue looking at funding options for the city’s future street improvements.

Biscoe said that she would like to “recommend that the council allow the Public Works (Committee) to complete their work in January on alternative funding mechanisms for street improvements.”

Potential options mentioned by Biscoe — who is chair of the Public Works Committee —  included a form of urban renewal district, general obligation bonds and gas tax revenues in addition to LIDs.

“I think it’s important that we acknowledge that many cities do not use local improvement districts for street infrastructures because they don’t like the nature of them,” she said. “So whether or not that fits for Philomath will remain to be seen on how the council decides” to proceed.

Councilors debated the issue from several angles for nearly an hour and a half leading up to a vote on the Biscoe motion, which ended up failing on a 5-2 vote (see Voting Record table below for details).

Councilor Ruth Causey followed with an alternative motion to send the issue of public improvement financing to the Planning Commission with the intent of receiving direction by March 7 in preparation for the council’s March 14 meeting. Causey added that if the motion succeeded, she would move to table the North 11th Street LID process.

Causey outlined four questions that she believes need to be addressed by the Planning Commission:

• Should the city retain the option to initiate local improvement districts?

• Should the city apply system development charges or other city funds to subsidize street improvements?

• Are there specific conditions that could be applied to qualify for subsidization?

• Are there limitations on the use of SDCs, which could prevent the same level of subsidization proposed for North 11th Street and in other similar situations?

Causey’s suggestions led to more discussion, which at times became contentious with points of order,  interjections and rebuttals. At one point, the conversation veered off into a back-and-forth on what had unfolded during a Public Works Committee meeting, which prompted City Attorney Jim Brewer to interrupt.

Said Brewer, “There is a motion on the floor and I understand people can disagree or be unhappy with the things that have been said but I think you are moving pretty far from — and this is both Councilor Causey and Councilor Biscoe — from OK, does this go to the Planning Commission to here’s what happened at the Public Works Committee. Those seem like different issues.”

City Manager Chris Workman expressed concern over the time element and said that if the issue goes to the Planning Commission, then the possibility of doing the North 11th Street project during summer 2022 would not be possible.

“I think the local improvement district is probably the best tool for North 11th Street and I am confident that if we go down that route and you give the staff the opportunity to work with the city engineer, we can come up with an engineering report that has some assessment options that may be more favorable and may give the council some additional options on how to look at it,” Workman said with a recommendation that the matter remain before the City Council.

The council would have the option, he added, to not approve the engineer’s report and then either send it to the Planning Commission or schedule future council work sessions.

When the vote arrived on the Causey motion to send the issue to the Planning Commission, it passed by a slim 4-3 vote.

Mayor Chas Jones immediately followed with a motion that the city proceed with improvements on the north half of North 11th Street “through a special assessment by the benefiting properties and those that are included within that district.”

The motion did not receive a second and immediately died.

Biscoe then put another motion on the table with a proposal that councilors meet for a first work session in January to decide whether or not to pursue the LID on North 11th and to consider all options.

Councilor Matt Lehman said that based on the Causey motion that had been passed to send the LID matter to the Planning Commision, there was no longer a sense of urgency to complete the North 11th Street project “other than the potential synergies we can get with the other local improvement district that’s going on (Landmark Drive) and just the general knowledge that it’s going to cost more moving forward to do the improvements.”

Added Lehman, “Any delays that we impose because we can’t come to a decision that everyone on the council can agree with is just going to further increase the cost to the citizens of Philomath in one way or another — whether it’s only the people in the LID or every single tax-paying citizen in the city of Philomath.”

Biscoe said that she sees the issue as two different topics — a broader conversation on whether or not the city wants to use LIDs to fund street infrastructure and then what should be done with the North 11th Street project that’s currently at hand.

Workman said he supported Biscoe’s motion to send the specific North 11th issue to a council work session.

“At the very least, I think we owe it to the residents of North 11th Street to have a decision made rather than we’ve not decided and we’re just going to kick it down the road for a few more months,” he said.

A vote followed and passed by another slim 4-3 margin to schedule the North 11th Street matter for discussion at a January work session. With the decision in place, a motion that Causey said she would make earlier in the meeting to table the North 11th Street LID process did not occur.

Workman had hoped to see the North 11th Street project happen next summer. The council’s decisions do not entirely wipe out that possibility and while answering a follow-up question on Tuesday, he characterized the project’s current status as “up in the air.”

In other news out of the Dec. 13 meeting:

• Julie Jackson, municipal and community relations manager for Republic Services, which contracts with the city for solid waste and recycling collection, provided an annual presentation that includes details on rate calculations.

• Nate Conroy, Oregon RAIN’s Linn and Benton county venture catalyst, introduced himself to the council and provided a rundown of the organization’s recent and future activities. Oregon RAIN (an acronym for Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network), a nonprofit organization, was established to connect regional entrepreneurs with strategic resources for launching and scaling business ventures.

• During the visitors and petitions portion of the meeting, local resident Giana Bernardini shared details of a proposed Heritage Tree Program that she would like to see implemented in Philomath. The council immediately took a vote and sent the issue to the Tree Board, which conducts business during Public Works Committee meetings.

• The council’s published consent agenda was eliminated and broken up into three separate votes. A referral of the city’s social service agency policy review to the Inclusivity Committee instead of the Finance and Administration Committee was approved on a 4-3 vote. An intergovernmental agreement with Benton County for tobacco retail licensing was approved on a 4-3 vote. And vote on the approval of the Nov. 8 and Nov. 22 minutes with revisions and corrections passed unanimously.

• Although the length of the meeting eliminated discussion, Workman included in the agenda package an update on the status of the city’s finance director position. Steve Larrabee had been approved for the job in October but because of personal reasons related to his health, he resigned just one month after starting, Workman said. The city reopened its search, made another offer and expected a decision this week. Retired finance director Joan Swanson was brought back to serve in that role on a contracted hourly basis.

• The council unanimously approved a liquor license application for Sand Lily Sparkling Wines, which will operate out of the Compton Family Winery location at 810 Applegate St.

• The council unanimously approved through a roll-call vote an ordinance that adds a completed Economic Opportunities Analysis as an appendix and support document in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

• A vote on amending municipal code with updated council rules was tabled until January.

• The council learned that its proposed participation in a League of Oregon Cities intervention program will cost $1,000 to $2,000 more than originally anticipated if held on a weekend outside of that organization’s regular working hours. No decision has been made with the time frame for such a meeting, which at the earliest could be held in February or March, according to information relayed by Brewer.

• In response to a question about the status of a proposed bioswale project that would impact Marys River Park, Workman said the city engineer is preparing a presentation for the council’s January meeting.

Following is a list of primary votes taken by the Philomath City Council at its Dec. 13 meeting:
• To send a proposal for the establishment of a Heritage Tree Program in Philomath to the city’s Tree Board. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve the referral of social service agency policy review to the Inclusivity Committee. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Lehman; No—Jones, Low, Nielson).
• To approve an intergovernmental agreement with Benton County for tobacco retail licensing. Motion: Low. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe, Lehman).
• To approve the City Council’s Nov. 8 and Nov. 22 minutes with revisions. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To direct the Public Works Committee to look at funding options for future street improvements. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Fails 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe; No—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To refer current questions about the city’s current process for paying for public improvements to the Planning Commission with direction to respond to the council by March 7. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Andrade, Causey, Lehman, Nielson; No—Biscoe, Jones, Low).
• To proceed with North 11th Street improvements on the north half through a special assessment by the benefiting properties and those that are included within that district. Motion: Jones. Seconded: None (motion fails).
• To schedule a work session at a first work session in January to deliberate whether or not to pursue a local improvement district on North 11th Street. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Jones, Low; No—Causey, Lehman, Nielson).
• To recommend approval of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission license application submitted by Sand Lily Sparkling Wines. Motion: Low. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve Ordinance 859 to amend the Comprehensive Plan to include the Economic Opportunities Analysis as an appendix and support document. Roll-call vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).