Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments Executive Director Ryan Vogt, seated at far right, gives a presentation Monday night to the Philomath City Council. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Following a process that started this past April and sparked a wide range of opinions, the Philomath City Council finalized its decision Monday night on how to spend just over $160,000 in America Rescue Plan Act funds.

The final debate over how to use the money took just under three hours.

Intended to be spent on specific community-facing projects, the council divvied up the money on the following projects:

• $80,000 — To pay for the replacement of four streetlights on North 13th Street with the same design as those in the city’s streetscapes project. It appears that four other streetlights on 13th to be replaced would be paid for out of street and general funds.

• $60,000 — To contribute half of the cost of a backup generator for Starlight Village water pump stations. Currently, if the pump stations lose power, fire hydrants do not have water and residents have to boil water for one to three days until testing can confirm no contaminants entered the water system while the water pressure was down. Water funds would be used for the balance.

• $10,000 — To pay for a portion of a rubber playground surface — either tiles or poured surfacing — at the new Cochran Veterans Memorial Park. Remaining money for the project, possibly in the area of $27,400, would come out of the city’s park SDC funds.

• $6,600 — To contribute $6,600 to the school district’s Downing Research Forest to help restore paths and a cross-country course.

• $3,400 — To pay for improvements to the Clemens Primary School student pick-up area on South 19th Street, a project that would include improved striping and flexible guideposts to separate the pick-up area from travel lanes.

Councilors made their way through detailed debates on the projects under consideration and took votes on proposed projects one at a time.

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.

In April, 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).

The city put out a public survey from late April through early June to gather feedback from the public on preferred projects. The Clemens Primary School pick-up area improvements ranked highest on the survey.

The most poignant comments of the evening revolved around approval of backup power for the Starlight Village water supply. Councilor Ruth Causey pointed to the Maui wildfire disaster while stating that safety needs to be the city’s top priority.

“I know there’s always a tendency to think it could not happen here but there was a thunderstorm last Friday that started six fires in Benton County — all of them were west of us,” Causey said. “Fortunately, they were all contained but if there had been high winds, it could’ve been disastrous. … If we get through this fire season, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Other possible funding options for the $120,000 backup generator were discussed, including to pay for it fully out of the city’s water fund. But in the end, it remained on the ARPA list at $60,000 with the other half to be paid out of water funds.

In other news out of the Aug. 28 meeting:

• Councilor Jessica Andrade read a City Council resolution proclaiming Sept. 15-Oct. 15 as Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month. The resolution passed unanimously.

• The council approved 6-0 on a roll-call vote a right-of-way vacation of Head Rig Street on South 16th Street. The developer of the Millpond Crossing housing project submitted the request with the Head Rig Street stub-out no longer needed following the city’s approval of a major modification that changed the layout of the subdivision. Nobody testified at a public hearing.

• Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments Executive Director Ryan Vogt provided the council with a short presentation and updates. The organization serves as an association of governments to carry out a variety of local, state and federal programs with members in Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties. Vogt announced that the organization now has a location in Benton County on Ninth Street to go along with offices in Linn County (Albany) and Lincoln County (Toledo).

• The council unanimously approved a consent agenda that included minutes from meetings on July 10 and Aug. 9.

• The council unanimously approved participation in a one-day, six-hour diversity, equality and inclusion in-person workshop offered through Western Oregon University.

• The council approved a motion to direct city staff to prepare a request for proposals to begin the process of hiring new legal counsel to replace longtime city attorney Jim Brewer, who along with David Coloumbe, will be retiring at the end of March 2024.

• The council on a roll-call vote unanimously approved an ordinance that grants a nonexclusive franchise to Casco Communications (doing business as Peak Internet).

• The council approved modifications to the city’s façade improvement program to include matching grant funding and directed staff to start a pilot round of projects to entice business property owners to make renovations to capture the streetscapes timber town theme. In the first year, the program would reportedly be set up to fund three projects with grants not to exceed $10,000 each.

• Andrade made a motion asking the City Council to sign a state petition in support of Indigenous Peoples’ Day becoming a paid holiday and non-school day for staff, students and public workers in Oregon as recommended by the city’s Inclusivity Committee. The motion died without a second.

• The council approved 5-1 (Causey nay, Christopher McMorran absent) the Inclusivity Committe’s proclamation and resolution procedures.

• The council went into executive session to consult with legal counsel regarding current litigation or litigation likely to be filed. Councilors did not discuss the matter or take a vote after reconvening in regular session.

• The council by consensus decided to be represented by Jones as a voting delegate to the League of Oregon Cities. Andrade will be the alternate voting delegate.

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.

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