Philomath could be in line for up to $1.9 million out of the State Legislature’s lottery bond appropriations bill to build new grandstands at the rodeo arena. (File photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

A correction was made at 2:25 p.m. June 19, 2023: A direct quote that included incorrect or misleading information in the item on the lottery bond appropriations bill was edited.

Late in a legislative session, what has become known as the “Christmas tree” bill is typically passed with funds allocated to specific projects around the state. Philomath was on the receiving end of the lottery bond appropriations bill in 2021 to the tune of $12 million for the water treatment plant project.

Philomath could be the beneficiary again if this session’s version — House Bill 5014 — receives approval. 

“We’re trying to get money for the replacement of the grandstands at the Frolic grounds,” Rep. David Gomberg said during a recent town hall event in Philomath, “and I feel like we’re in a good place to get that money if we can just get the current budget that’s on the table voted on and off to the governor.”

Philomath City Manager Chris Workman said Gomberg’s office had reached out to identify a project that Philomath really needed. The downtown streetscapes project had been financed, the water treatment plant and reservoir were paid for and American Rescue Plan Act funds are going in part toward a sewer project.

“As far as needs for the community, the City Council felt like replacing the grandstands at the rodeo grounds was the most-pressing topic or need to go to the Legislature for,” Workman said. “We’ve talked to Rep. Gomberg’s office … and we got their support to include that in the package of legislation that comes together as part of the lottery bonds.”

The lottery bonds are used generally to fund community projects that will facilitate and promote economic and community development and growth.

“The grandstand project really does do that because the Frolic and Rodeo is all about the economic development piece of it — getting people to come to town, bringing the tourism in there, having events and if you don’t have a place for people to sit, then it’s hard to have the events,” he said. “If you have a new facility with a new arena and increased capacity, then we’re going to attract new events to Philomath.”

Workman sees future rodeo arena capacity that’s double the current size. In addition, he foresees “other events throughout the summer, throughout the year, where we’ll have more people coming down on the weekends, going to restaurants, filling up their gas tanks, staying in the hotel, eventually staying in the RV park.

“We really do see it as an economic development issue that is very much in line with the use of those lottery tax dollars,” he added.

Workman said that the cost of the grandstands project currently stands at about $2.5 million. The Frolic and Rodeo has committed a little more than half a million dollars, so the hope is to receive $1.9 million through the lottery bond appropriations bill.

The local organization has received donations to go toward the project in the aftermath of last year’s fire that took out a seating section.

“Outside of the arena getting improved with new grandstands, we’re looking at new public restrooms, we’re looking to improve the beer garden,” Workman said. “So there’s a lot of other improvements we’re looking to do outside of just the arena. Every dollar that we get will be put to good use to improve the facilities.”

Scott Lepman, left, and employee Richard Strait look over plans at the Tall Timber RV Park site. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

2. Tall Timber RV Park update

Developer Scott Lepman hesitated to give any sort of definitive timeline on the completion and opening of Tall Timber RV Park in Philomath. In response to a question about 2024 as a possibility, he said “probably” but it sounds like a lot of things will need to fall into place.

Coming up with timelines to be shared with the public can be the most difficult question for a developer because of the array of factors connected to a project.

During a recent walk around the property, Lepman said progress had been made on the RV park’s infrastructure.

“We’ve got all the deep storm detention and the sewer line and then we need to just install the laterals to each one of the RV spaces,” he said. “We still need to put a water line through the park, we need to build two bridges and we need to build a manager’s residence and the rec center.”

From listening to Lepman’s description, the rec center sounds like it will be an attractive centerpiece to the 175-space park.

“We’ll have a walking path, there’s a rec center, there will be an outdoor patio that will have four garage doors open up on nice days with a fire pit that’s cantilevered out over the pond,” Lepman said. “There will be an indoor gathering space, that will be conditioned space, that will be available in the winter or the summer.”

Lepman mentioned that he really likes the location for RVers who will have walking-distance access to Philomath’s downtown.

“I think that is a plus,” he said. “What I’m noticing is when I go places, I really enjoy being in areas where you can walk to restaurants or whatever.”

Besides the RV park, Lepman’s construction also includes a nearby storage facility, which will be the second-largest in the county, and industrial warehouse flex space. The three-level storage building will be the first of his three projects to be finished.

“We’re doing, in scope, two large projects simultaneously and potentially three with the flex space, so we just take one bite of the apple at a time,” Lepman said as a follow-up comment to that timeline question. “I think we have six (employees) plus six contractors. Most of the stuff that we do is below the ground and then we have contractors that help us with the stuff above the ground.”

Overall, Lepman said the Philomath projects have progressed at a slower pace than anticipated because of supply chain issues. For example, he mentioned how it can take six months or more to get something like the type of electrical switches that are needed.

Another project in town being constructed on a former mill site, Millpond Crossing, has seen a variety of issues, including the detection of methane. Lepman was asked if he’s run into any problems on his property.

“We had multiple environmental reports done, even one prepared by Benton County,” Lepman said.

Lepman is referring to the work that was done in connection to the county’s bid to place a new jail on the property back in 2015.

“We did find some contamination but only in the catch basins and so we took care of that,” Lepman added and pointed out that deep sewer line installations have occurred underneath Newton Creek.

The Philomath City Council will try again at its next meeting to make a final decision on diversity, equity and inclusion training. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

3. City’s inclusivity training issues

An ongoing issue at Philomath City Council meetings since the creation of the Inclusivity Committee has been to decide upon and schedule diversity, equity and inclusion training for councilors and supervisory staff members. And it’s fair to say that the process has not exactly been a smooth undertaking.

At the June 12 City Council meeting, strong words were shared at the table concerning the latest attempt to get training scheduled. It appeared that councilors were headed in the direction of going through a workshop offered by Oregon State University.

“They do not do evenings or weekends for training,” Councilor Jessica Andrade told the council. “If the council is willing to take off work and to meet Monday through Thursday between 8 and 4, we can continue to try to find a date to train with them. Otherwise, the Inclusivity Committee has said that the training through Western Oregon University would be a good second option. And they do trainings on weekends and evenings, if need be.”

Councilor Ruth Causey followed that report by expressing disapproval and distrust in the entire process and introduced a motion for the decision to be tabled “until such time the Inclusivity Committee can provide a list of the entities we will contact for training, their credentials and experience, the content of the training, their availability for training, the cost of the training and I’d be particularly interested to know if they have worked with elected officials previously. And I would also like to know what references were contacted, what questions were asked and the basis for the recommendation.”

Causey added that some will view her comments as not supporting the training but she said that’s not true.

“I would like to support this training; I’d like to be excited about it but quite frankly, I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s going to be worth the time and now you’re asking people to take time off to do it,” she said. “So my fundamental concerns are that it be a valuable use of public funds and not a waste of our time.”

Councilor Christopher McMorran, who sits on the Inclusivity Committee with Andrade and Diane Crocker, questioned why there would be second-guessing of that type of information and what role committees play in the process.

McMorran said it “sounds like you want the entire council to just review all of the information and make a decision about this training, which we can do, that’s fine. I guess I’m just confused because I thought the council delegated this to the Inclusivity Committee to make a recommendation and the committee has done that.”

McMorran went further to suggest that councilors are not able to function with the Inclusivity Committee in its current form, something he doesn’t see with other committees.

“I’m getting tired of going to Inclusivity Committee meetings where it feels like we’re on one track and then come to City council meetings and it feels like we’re on a different track — I just think that’s the real problem here,” he said. “I totally get what you’re saying but I think what you’re saying is a symptom of a larger disconnect between this body and that body. … I think this motion is symptomatic of all of the problems here.”

Causey offered follow-up views that any other committee would respond with specific details if requested by the council and wanted a more detailed-oriented agenda item summary that outlines such information.

“I’ve never seen it and quite frankly, I have no confidence in this decision,” she said. “I have no confidence in the information that has been brought forward with what the limited information is.”

Councilor Teresa Nielson had a similar take as far as wanting more details.

“I think this information, this training, is crucial and so important and there are public funds going toward this and so there is value in having a summary of what exactly will be covered and how it will benefit our city and our citizens and all,” she said. “It’s not a distrust issue, it’s an information issue. I think good decisions are based on good information.”

Andrade apologized for not having a more specific agenda item and that she erred in asking the city manager to write it. Workman said he would take some blame for the “vanilla” presentation in the packet and recommended that the best action would be to circle back with a more detailed report.

“I do think that both of these are good trainings but I also recognize the value in showing constituents that we’re not just spending money to spend money and check a box that we did the training,” Workman said. “I do think that the council has voiced several times that they want meaningful training that’s going to be impactful, that’s going to make a difference. To do that, I think it bodes for maybe a little bit more defined agenda item summary.”

Andrade said both training options through Oregon State and Western Oregon are comprehensive.

“I don’t see any reason to not go with either of them, especially because the League of Oregon Cities already contracts with Western Oregon University — they’re the ones that do the DEI trainings that they offer,” she said, adding that she “knows less about Oregon State University’s information because I didn’t talk to them directly.”

Councilor Matt Lehman said he sympathizes with both Causey and McMorran but expressed frustration that DEI training has been an ongoing conversation for what he says has been three years, a process that he called “ludicrous.”

“The fact of the matter is we’ve been trying for three years to get some training scheduled and it seems like it’s nearly impossible,” he said, “and that strikes me as asinine.”

Crocker believes the council has been very supportive and also thinks specifics on training would be beneficial, including the length of the session and a better estimate of the cost.

“If we’re going to be voting on it, we need to know those things,” she said.

In the end, it was requested for Workman to poll councilors about time availability and with a more detailed agenda item summary at the group’s next meeting, perhaps a final decision could be made.

The vote to table the issue passed on a 4-3 vote — Mayor Chas Jones, Causey, Crocker and Nielson in favor and Andrade, Lehman and McMorran against.

So, we’ll see what happens next month.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

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.