Standing in front of the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 16, Mayor Chas Jones delivered a positive message to those in attendance at the organization’s monthly luncheon: “The state of the city is strong.”
Jones reviewed various bullet points under the city’s five primary themes in the strategic plan — strong infrastructure, healthy economy, effective governance, great neighborhoods and safe community. Through those discussions, it became clear that various projects will create some challenges around town next summer, mostly in the downtown vicinity.
For starters, the city’s Downtown Safety and Streetscape Improvement Project is currently slated to begin next summer. City Manager Chris Workman fielded a question about possible impacts.
“The traffic just on the streetscape project specifically, that’s going to be very detailed,” he said. “A lot of that will be designed out prior to going out for bid … some of it will be up to the contractor to submit.”
Workman said a lot of specifics about impacts will not be determined until a contractor is hired.
“We don’t know at this point how much of that work on Main Street’s going to happen in the evenings, on the weekends or work days. … We don’t have a lot of details at this point,” he said.
Workman did point out that the contractor will be tasked with sending out weekly updates to businesses, organizations and individuals that opt-in to an email list.
“We want to make sure as business owners you’re aware of where the construction is and how it could impact you,” Workman said. “There’s going to be times when there’s going to be a big construction crew outside of your front door, we recognize that. The best thing we can do is to let you know as far in advance as possible so you can work around it.”
Beyond the downtown area, Landmark Drive is slated for an improvement project to begin in September 2022. In addition, Mount Union Avenue will be repaved and 11th Street upgrades are planned.
The new water treatment plant is scheduled to break ground in the foreseeable future.
“We are actually planning to start construction by the end of this year on the project and finish it by the end of next year,” Jones said.
Perhaps the biggest news of the year was the $12 million grant awarded from the state through an appropriations bill focused on rebalancing the state budget and distributing millions in federal funds that Oregon received from the American Rescue Plan Act to help pay for the new plant. Throw in the $4 million that the city raised through water rate hikes and the project is paid in full.
“Between those two sources of funding, we are not anticipating getting a loan for the project,” Jones said, later adding, “Due to the $12 million being available, we are going to be reducing our water rates.”
In the area of effective governance, Jones mentioned the hiring of an assistant city manager, a new addition to the city staff that will take some work off of Workman’s plate. The city was also in the process of hiring a finance director to replace Joan Swanson, who announced her retirement.
Under the umbrella of great neighborhoods, Jones talked about the additional housing that has been constructed in Philomath during fiscal year 2020-21 to increase the tax base. Those numbers include 77 new single-family residences, 36 multi-family units at a local apartment complex and one triplex. And since June when the current fiscal year started, there have been approximately 20 more homes and two more triplexes thrown into the mix.
One of the housing developments has seen a problem, however, with a methane issue at Millpond Crossing, Jones added.
“There was a methane problem coming up from the buried logs from the old mill there … they were just degrading and causing methane production,” Jones said. “So they’ve had elevated methane in the ground there that was detected and the developer is working with the state and the county to figure out ways to mitigate that.”
Expanded bus services, plans with parks and other miscellaneous items were also touched on.
In the area of safe community, Jones talked about programs for students and neighborhoods, various events and plans for improvements to be made to Chapel Drive — another summer 2022 project — that is designed to improve access to the middle school.
“Thanks to all of our amazing citizens, our staff, our City Council, our committees, our commissions,” Jones said. “We have a really robust volunteer base in Philomath.”
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