The Philomath City Council needs more time to figure out how to spend $160,000 on “community-facing projects” and plans to put out a survey asking local residents for input.

Discussing the matter during their April 10 meeting, councilors approved $19,750 to go toward the cost of an electronic document archiving system, the installation of an informational kiosk outside City Hall and new holiday decorations for the downtown vicinity.

Those items out of the strategic plan had been proposed by City Manager Chris Workman but a fourth suggestion to spend $160,000 on eight new street lights on North 13th Street led to a debate.

“I have no doubt that our constituents would like those things, especially the holiday lights,” Councilor Christopher McMorran said, pointing to past interactions related to the downtown decorations and transparency, which comes into play with the electronic archiving and kiosk. “I have not had anyone stop me on the street and tell me … North 13th Street needs wooden lamps.”

A few other councilors had also mentioned transparency-related projects and holiday lights as being on a community wish list.

To back up, the city’s Budget Committee in February 2022 approved the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for a $1.1 million sewer line project on South 17th and 18th streets and $30,000 for City Hall improvements. The remaining funds, which adds up to $179,796, were to be used “on projects that are identified through a public engagement process.”

Workman requested clear direction from the council on what specific projects they favored so the city could identify those in the 2023-24 budget with that timeline corresponding to what the state has required.

“Rather than think up new projects to come up with, I went to the current strategic plan recently updated and tried to identify projects that are already on the docket with action items or clear objectives to get done this year,” Workman said.

The four projects that the city manager suggested:

• Implement required technology to improve efficiency and expand transparency, specifically a contract with a company called Laserfiche, which provides electronic document archiving and a web interface that allows access to the public. The project is estimated at $6,750.

• Establish a kiosk at City Hall to improve council and staff engagement with the public at an estimated cost of $1,000.

• Replace holiday decorations for the downtown area at an estimated cost of $12,000.

• Replace street lighting on North 13th to match new lights that are being installed as part of the downtown improvements. Eight lights would be needed with an estimated cost of $160,000.

It’s the fourth suggestion on street lighting that was questioned. Workman said there is no money currently available elsewhere in the budget for lights on North 13th.

“When the streetscape project is in and the new lights come in, 13th Street’s going to look kind of odd having the old-style lights and it’s not going to match the rest of that downtown area,” Workman said. “That was the reason that the project made it into the strategic plan … but we don’t have any dollars assigned to do it. This seems like an obvious place that we could pull some money from.”

Councilors Jessica Andrade and Matt Lehman both spoke in favor of inviting public input before a final decision is made. After a few ideas had been thrown around, the council ultimately decided to come up with a survey to ask citizens for their opinions on how to spend the money.

The 2023-24 budget does not need to be approved until the end of June, Workman said, which leaves time to do public outreach. The survey, he added, could probably be ready within the next couple of weeks with the council able to discuss results in May.

HOPE project manager Rebecca Taylor discusses a regional housing coordination effort with city councilors during the April 10 meeting. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In other news from the April 10 meeting:

• The two-hour regular meeting followed a 90-minute executive session that had been called to consult with legal counsel about current and possible litigation and to consider information or records exempt by law from public inspection. The council did not make any statements or take any votes following the closed meeting.

• Fred Shaub of the Philomath Rotary Club during public comments talked about his organization’s commitment to “positive peace” — an effort that resulted out of a partnership with the Institute for Economics and Peace, which defines the initiative as “when we create communities where neighbors can thrive socially, emotionally and economically.” Shaub said he believes the eight pillars of positive peace could be aligned with the city’s strategic plan to create a partnership at the local level. Based on a discussion later in the meeting, it appears that the issue could be sent to the city’s Inclusivity Committee.

• Rebecca Taylor, Benton County HOPE (Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity) implementation project manager, went through a regional housing coordination effort established by the 2022 passage of House Bill 4123, which prioritizes city-county partnerships to strengthen the response to homelessness. The council gave its consensus for the city manager to draft a memorandum of understanding for the city to participate in the effort. The council anticipates taking a vote on the memorandum at the May regular meeting.

• The council unanimously approved an updated version of the 2023-24 Capital Improvement Plan, which serves as a guide for the city’s execution of projects for the next fiscal year.

• The council unanimously approved an allocation of $5,000 for diversity, equity and inclusion training through an Oregon State University program for council members and city staff with the option of others who serve on city committees invited to participate.

• Mayor Chas Jones announced winners of the “If I Were Mayor” student contest and read the entries. The winners were fifth grader Wilson Schroeder for a poster entry and seventh grader Olivia Siler for an essay. (see related article).

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.