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Day: April 20, 2010

Council again delays decision on building caps

Councilors again put off a decision Monday night that could soften retail building caps at Keizer Station.

The Keizer City Council did vote to strengthen review requirements throughout Keizer Station along with an amendment shifting a transit station requirement to Area B of Keizer Station.
But they put off the building caps issue, as residents in the Chemawa Road NE area – many still stinging from a 2008 decision that allows a big-box store of 135,000 square feet to locate at the southeast corner of Chemawa Road and Lockhaven Drive (Area C)  – passionately lobbied councilors not to allow an even bigger store in the area. The matter could be back in front of councilors as early as May 3.

The issue at hand is a rather technical governmental process, but one neighbors fear could impact their neighborhoods.

Caps regulate how much retail square footage is allowed in the four areas of Keizer Station. Currently, in Area C the limit is 135,000 square feet, which can be contained in a single building. The Council’s 2008 decision raised the cap from 65,000 square feet in total, and 10,000 square feet per building.

The issue elicited at-times emotional testimony from neighbors, who founded the Keep Keizer Livable group. They backed former planning commissioner Martin Matiskainen’s ultimately-unsuccessful campaign against Councilor Brandon Smith in 2008.

The latest proposal was to move the process to change those caps from a text amendment process – considered a legislative change – to a master plan process, which is considered quasi-judicial under state land use laws.

It’s a two-sided coin: Some councilors contended the master plan process allows them to see concrete plans of what the developer has in mind, and under a legislative process, they said, there would be no such requirement.
But what had Keep Keizer Livable members and some other speakers at Monday’s meeting concerned, at least in part, was City Attorney Shannon Johnson’s assertion that “councilors must grant the reallocation request” if the applicant can show that such a change won’t cause a drastic traffic effect and won’t unduly burden any other Keizer Station business owners.

Councilors sought to give themselves more discretion, considering passages that would add criteria addressing “what’s best” for Keizer as a whole and the neighborhood specifically.

“I think everybody wants to be sure that you look not just at the property owners in Keizer Station, but also the impact to the adjacent neighborhoods and the citizens at large,” said City Attorney Shannon Johnson.
But Johnson also acknowledged inserting such subjective language into a quasi-judicial process could be “tricky.

“(The Land Use Board of Appeals) generally prefers the criteria to be clear and objective, but in certain circumstances you can’t have it clear and objective for every single criteria,” Johnson said.

Councilor David McKane in particular was concerned about the possibility that councilors would have little discretion.

“Under this proposal, if we go through the master plan process, can I vote no by saying, ‘I just don’t like the idea?’” added Councilor Jim Taylor. “… I still want that opportunity.”

Much of Monday night’s testimony centered around the big-box issue, with statements reminiscent of the debate from two years prior. Developers have publicly stated in the past that Wal-Mart would be the most likely tenant. A prevailing fear was that the 135,000 cap – which Keep Keizer Livable fought vigorously – could be raised even higher, although some city staffers say there’s simply not enough room on the property to go much larger.

Carol Meurer said her home would be “in the line of fire” should Wal-Mart locate there, and Les Faulds urged councilors not to allow what he called a “predatory retailer.”

“I have a hard time believing a large, single retailer like that is going to derive much benefit to the community around it,” Faulds said.

Frank Pauley said he walked the neighborhood polling residents last weekend.

“I talked to numerous people all day Saturday … and on Sunday, and I couldn’t find one single person who wanted a big-box store,” Pauley said.

He said that Wal-Mart has been stopped in other cities, and urged the council not to allow a location here. Councilors responded by saying they had no control over the brand or chain that may choose to locate within the city.

“I don’t mind people making money,” Pauley said. “Just think about Keizer and ruining more neighborhoods. I don’t want our neighborhood ruined.”

Community Development Director Nate Brown insisted the process was to give the public a better idea of what may be coming down the road, not to give a developer more leeway.

“This process is not intended to reallocate anything,” Brown said.

Local unemployment back in double digits

It was fun while it lasted.

The local unemployment rate rose into double digits again after dipping to 9.5 percent in February. The March seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is 10.2 percent.

It’s 0.3 percent lower than the unemployment rate in March 2009.

An estimated 22,759 people were unemployed in Marion and Polk counties in a work force of 196,878 for the month. Overall, 531 less people were unemployed than one year ago.

March’s job growth was “larger than is typical” for the Salem MSA between February and March, as about 600 jobs were added to the workforce, according to Patrick O’Connor of Worksource Oregon.

However, there are 1,300 less nonfarm jobs in the area since March 2009. The Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area includes Keizer.

In key sectors:

• Construction was flat for the month, and has lost 400 jobs in the past year.

• Manufacturing added 100 jobs.

• Leisure and hospitality employment rose by 200 jobs.

• Retail trade was unchanged, but has lost 700 jobs in the past year.

• In the public sector, local government dropped 200 jobs while state and federal added 100 each.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Assumptions fly all around in home rule discussion

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Next month, Marion County residents will be asked whether they want to change the way the county elects its leaders.

Under the home rule charter proposal, the number of commissioners will grow from three to five. Instead of party-based elections with a primary and general election similar to a legislative or congressional race, the elections will become non-partisan.

The proposal also calls for eliminating the county treasurer position.

It’s a big deal in large part because of land use, an issue that has divided Oregonians for decades. To illustrate, Friends of Marion County have endorsed the measure, while the Salem Chamber of Commerce is stridently opposing it.

The Web sites for Have a Voice Everyone – the pro-charter side – and the anti-charter Bigger Government? No Way! offer a plethora of arguments. A common thread on both sides is statements based on decisions a future county commission may or may not make.

Claim: A home rule charter would save the county $271,874.

Status: Dubious. Savings are mostly based on future county commission decisions, which this group cannot guarantee.

At Have A Voice Everyone, the Web site supporting the measure, the front page argues that adding two commissioners can actually save money. It says that, by eliminating the county treasurer position and three policy advisors currently on staff at the county commission, the county could actually save more than $270,000.

However, nothing in the charter

document calls for eliminating those three policy advisor positions. The supporters are presuming a new county commission would vote to cut those jobs.

The two sides also disagree on whether a new finance staffer would be required to replace the county treasurer. Even presuming the county doesn’t add that extra position, the savings indicated on the group’s Web site (reducing the treasurer’s office from $252,207 to $89,243 in “transferred fiscal staff”) don’t add up when compared with the costs for those positions identified on HAVE’s own Web site. Our calculations, using HAVE’s numbers, put this “transferred fiscal staff” number at $132,475.

• Claim: Home rule would cost the county $500,000 more per year.

Status: The charter would cost more as written, but only reaches $500,000 per year based on future commission decisions this group cannot guarantee. It also presumes a special election will be required.

Bigger Government? No Way! states that the charter would increase county costs by $500,000 to fund two extra commissioners.

At their current salary plus benefits and other costs, two county commissioners would cost approximately $216,398. Adding two more policy advisors would cost an additional $216,872. But the decision to hire two new policy advisors would be solely in the hands of the new county commission. It also presumes a September special election.

As written, the charter calls for two new commissioners and does not mention a treasurer or policy advisor position. With the elimination of the treasurer positions – and assuming no staff is added to cover the role – as written added costs would be about $104,000.

Claim: A September election will be required if the measure passes.

Status: Possible in theory, but unlikely in reality. The county commission would have to overrule its top elections official and decide to hold a special election.

Bigger Government? No Way! says a special September election must be held.

The argument comes from Section 9 of the charter that addresses the transition to the new charter. There’s language that suggests a September election would be required – but there’s also a passage that very clearly states the new commissioners would be elected in November.

The passage reads, in part, “districts with no elected commissioner residing within their boundaries when established shall not be declared to be vacant.

It then says, “any such vacancy shall be filled at the next county-wide election occurring more than 40 days after this Charter’s adoption.” Although no election is scheduled for September, the next time state law allows the county to hold an election is the third Tuesday in September. Some legal experts believe the county would be required to hold an election then.

Yet the charter plainly spells out that “commissioners shall be elected by plurality at the first general election held in November following the adoption of this Charter.” Subsequent elections will be held in May, and if no candidate gains a majority (50 percent plus one vote) of the electorate, the top two candidates square off in November.

Bill Burgess, the Marion County clerk and chief elections officer of the county, doesn’t think a September election would be required. At the end of the day it’s his decision unless the commission chose to overrule his office and hold a special election – a vote that would almost guarantee a lawsuit and could be politically treacherous.

• Claim: District maps will not change significantly after the 2010 redistricting.

Status: Cannot be verified. Claim is based on data that is not yet available.

Under its Myths vs. Facts section, Have a Voice Everyone says the district map will not “change considerably” following the 2010 U.S. Census.

Under the home rule charter proposal, the districts would be amended if any district has 3 percent more people than another district. The boundaries would be proposed by the county clerk and approved by the commission.

The site says that “population estimates indicate that the current proposed district populations will not change significantly” but offers no evidence or citations of this. Comparing 2000-2009 population data from the Census and Portland State University’s Population Research Center, Marion County has experienced about 10 percent growth.

• Claim: Expanding the county commission would allow for secret, private meetings between commissioners.

Status: True, but ignores the way every city in Marion County does business.

At Bigger Government? No Way! the group says “county commission meetings should be held in public, not private. Measure 24-282 would allow commissioners to hold secret and private meetings, two by two, out of the public eye.”

A quorum – that is, enough members of a public body to cast a vote – may not meet in private to decide on or deliberate toward a decision on an issue, state law states, except for certain conditions.

Under the current system, two commissioners – a voting majority – can’t deliberate county business. The Have A Voice Everyone group argues that policy advisors currently act as go-betweens.

If passed, the measure would allow these conversations. But the claim that “this provision alone is enough demand Measure 24-292’s defeat” doesn’t mention that every incorporated city in Marion County has at least a four-member city council, with Keizer reaching seven members. A meeting of a quorum of county commissioners – which would be three if the measure passes – would still be illegal.

As city cuts next budget, police could bear brunt

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Do the dots have it?

We’ll find out soon enough, as City Manager Chris Eppley and his staff prepare a budget for the upcoming year.

But at a joint meeting of the Keizer City Council and Budget Committee on Monday, April 12, a dot exercise revealed that cops and other city employees may bear the brunt of a $250,000 general fund shortfall.

Councilors and committee members were given several dot stickers with their initials on them, and were presented with poster boards of various options Eppley recommended to balance the budget.

Fee increases on water and sewer got some support – as did shutting down the city’s new splash park for all but a few days this summer – but laying off a police officer and reducing work hours city wide got the most support.

Mayor Lore Christopher and Councilor Brandon Smith place their dots where they’d like to see changes to balance the upcoming city budget. Revenues coming in under projections means a cut of about $250,000 from next year’s general fund budget.

Already included in the proposed budget – reductions that don’t address the remaining $250,000 fiscal gap – are a salary freeze for all non-represented employees, department heads and the city manager. Also included are continuing cuts from this year’s budget as well as ending neighborhood association expenses, the Keizer Public Art Walk funding, maintaining Christmas lights, and the stipend for the Keizer Community Library. His proposal also includes using about $19,000 set aside to someday study whether a library taxing district should be placed on the election ballot to shore up the general fund.

Ways to raise revenue included raising water and sewer franchise fees from 5 percent to 7 percent.

City staff are already planning a 5 percent stormwater fee. Eppley said these measures would add about $15 per year to customers’ water and sewer bills.

Committee member Sandi King said increasing basic utility fees “adds insult to injury” in light of high unemployment and other signs of a tough economy.

“I agree that it is not an attractive option,” Eppley replied. “I believe it is just as legitimate and valid an option as reducing services in other areas.”

However, Eppley noted many other cities are facing much larger shortfalls.

The gap comes from declining revenues, mostly franchise fees, city staff said. Cost overruns at the civic center – which came out of the urban renewal fund – didn’t affect the general fund.

‘Unbelievable’

Police Chief Marc Adams muttered this to himself as he and several other top Keizer police officers stared in seeming disbelief at the number of dots on the board favoring laying off a cop.

Earlier that evening he told the room any cuts would not affect patrol, but would instead affect other areas like pro-active narcotics investigations.

Per the contract between the Keizer Police Association (KPA) – the officers’ union – and the city – the union would have to concede to any pay freezes or cuts. The only option that the city can perform without permission is layoffs, which is determined by seniority.

B.J. Olafson, president of the KPA, said the union is in the midst of voting on the matter. Results will be in Friday evening.

He spoke of trying to find a “win-win” but acknowledged how difficult that may be with the current economic climate.

“We’re trying to meet with city officials, the chief of police and figure out what we can do in the best interests of everybody,” Olafson said.

But he said reduction in any area of policing would likely mean some kind of increase in crime, be it speeding or something worse.

“If we take somebody off the road, crime does go up,” Olafson said. “If it’s not someone on the road … somewhere ends up suffering.”

But Adams said laying off just one officer – an entry-level position – won’t cover the $70,000 or so he may be asked to slice from his budget.

“I pretty much expected” being targeted for cuts, Adams said, noting his department represents 75 percent of the city’s general fund spending. “My plan was to add six officers over the next few years.

“But the tax base is what it is, and we’ll have to work with that.”

Adams said such a cut would put the department two positions below staffing levels one year ago, before Capt. John Teague left to become chief in Dallas.

Olafson also noted many officers also live in Keizer, meaning “we’re affected by everything that goes on here. What affects your normal citizen – we are your normal citizen.”

During the exercise, participants could use multiple dots in specific areas to indicate an emphasis. Reducing work hours and pay city-wide got 23 votes, while laying off an officer got 19 votes.

Water rate hikes got eight votes, and sewer increases got 11 votes. A $1 line item for parks on utility bills got 10. Shutting off the spray park for most of the year got 13 votes.

Mayor Lore Christopher remarked that her options were “crappy,” and Councilor Richard Walsh noted that decisions have not yet been finalized.

“I think a lot more studying needs to be done before we know what the impact to the city will be,” he said.