City Manager Chris Workman talks during the Oct. 9 Philomath City Council meeting. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A topic often revisited in recent months at Philomath City Council meetings has been how to spend just over $160,000 that remains out of money given to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act. Councilors have debated proposals, come up with alternative angles on projects and introduced new ideas.

During a lengthy discussion at an Aug. 28 meeting, the council approved five projects that included new streetlights, a backup generator for a water pump station, a park’s playground surface, safety improvements near the primary school and a contribution to help restore paths and a cross-country course in the school district’s research forest.

One of the primary points of discussion on the issue involves those projects that could potentially be paid for through other sources. In those situations, the free ARPA money could then have more impact among a wider range of projects.

“There’s nothing like free money to cause a little stirring and I’ll just say a lot of this has been estimates on projects in good faith,” City Manager Chris Workman said to lead off Monday night’s discussion. “I recognize we’re trying to spread these funds out and do as much good as possible with them.”

Updated cost estimates for remaining approved projects were introduced at the most recent council meeting. 

“Obviously as we’ve gone further along with each of these projects, we’ve brought you back updates on cost estimates,” Workman said. “As those costs have gotten closer and closer, now we’re at the point of getting bids and we’re seeing different numbers than what you were given.”

The street lights project, originally estimated at $160,000 with $80,000 coming out of ARPA funds and $80,000 out of either the city’s street fund or general fund, came in $55,000 higher than anticipated with a $215,000 bid. The cost includes the installation of eight streetlights on North 13th Street to match the streetscape project’s design.

The council ultimately decided to renew its ARPA commitment of $80,000 and the city’s Urban Renewal Agency would be consulted to cover the remaining balance of $135,000.

Meanwhile, the bid for a synthetic grass playground surface at Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park came in at $112,269. The synthetic grass option, a less-expensive alternative to pour-in rubber or tiles, is considered to be at the forefront of ADA surfacing technology. The council had originally committed $10,000 to go toward a rubber-based surface, which had been estimated at up to $37,400 with the rest of the money coming out of funds collected through park system development charges.

City staff reported that the lowest-cost alternative would be engineered wood fiber and an early motion favored that option. But following views from other councilors that focused on safety and accessibility, the motion was withdrawn.

A new version of the motion, which encompassed decisions on all of the projects, committed $10,000 to go toward the $112,000 cost of the playground surface with $52,000 to be paid out of park SDCs and $50,000 out of the Park Fund balance.

As for a backup generator for Starlight Village water pump stations, Workman seemed confident that an Oregon Department of Emergency Management grant would bring in $150,000, more than enough needed to complete the project that has been estimated at no more than $120,000. 

City officials said the backup generator has been ordered with an estimated 36-week wait for delivery. By the time the project occurs, the city believes it would have a final answer on how to pay for it.

If the grant fails to materialize, the project tagged as a high priority could be paid for out of the commitment of $60,000 in ARPA funds and the rest through a to-be-determined city fund transfer strategy. If the grant does happen, then the $60,000 in ARPA money would be transferred into the Park Fund.

A few of the projects approved in August have already panned out:

• The city spent approximately $3,000 for the installation by Public Works of flexible guideposts along the Clemens Primary School pickup area on South 19th Street. The project had been estimated at $3,400.

• The city committed $6,600 to the school district to help pay for Downing forest-related costs with replanting trees and redesigning the cross-country course.

ARPA was a $1.9 trillion bill designed to support communities across the country struggling with health and economic impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of Philomath received about $1.3 million in ARPA federal funding.

In February 2022, the City Council allotted roughly $1.1 million in ARPA money for a sewer line project on 16th, 17th and 18th streets. The council also approved City Hall improvements of about $30,000 for hybrid and live-streaming meeting capacity.

This past spring, the council voted to approve three additional projects totaling nearly $20,000 — new holiday decorations for downtown light poles ($12,000), an electronic document archiving system ($6,750) and a new kiosk at City Hall ($1,000).

An idea introduced at a Sept. 11 meeting for radar sign enforcement sparked little discussion at Monday’s meeting. Chief of Police Ken Rueben shared details through a memo that provided an idea of new and ongoing costs related to the project.

Using ARPA funds to implement the program does not appear to be a realistic option, although the issue was to go to the Police Committee for a full review, including an analysis of costs vs. revenue.

In other news out of the Oct. 9 meeting:

• The council recognized Indigenous Peoples Day and thanked Luhui Whitebear for speaking at a special event that occurred prior to the meeting.

• The council approved a resolution to declare October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.

• The council unanimously approved a resolution to raise building, plumbing and electrical permit fees 12% effective Jan. 1 and structural fees based on annual construction cost valuation information. Ron Dettrich, building official that represents Benton County and Philomath, was in attendance to provide information. Other than Dettrich, there were no comments during a public hearing.

• Peggy McGuire, Community Services Consortium executive director, provided details on establishing a Continuum of Care program in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties as part of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements, including funding. CoC programs were designed to promote communitywide commitments to the goal of ending homelessness. The council approved a resolution to support those efforts.

• The council approved a consent agenda that included the Sept. 11 meeting minutes.

• The council tabled a sponsorship request from NAACP Linn-Benton for its Freedom Fund Celebration scheduled for Nov. 4 at Corvallis Museum.

• The council unanimously approved to move forward with plans to complete a city manager evaluation, which includes a review of results, at its Nov. 13 meeting.

• The council approved Amanda Polley and Rose Bricker to terms on the Inclusivity Committee.

• The council adopted a resolution to concur with a Benton County order vacating the northern portion of North 20th Place as part of a request from RV park developer Scott Lepman Co. Benton County’s engineer reported no future use of the right-of-way for a road. County commissioners adopted its resolution on the matter Sept. 5.

• The council approved a resolution to establish deferred compensation and retirement savings plans with MissionSquare Retirement. Assistant City Manager Chelsea Starner said the previous provider’s service and responsiveness had become issues over time.

• The council approved a resolution to repeal a management longevity pay policy that became obsolete following the adoption in July of a new employee handbook.

• The council adjourned into executive session following the regular meeting and discussed a legal matter for about 10 minutes. 

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.