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Day: October 7, 2011

Developer’s debt may cost millions

KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A Keizer Station developer’s debt could end the city’s current urban improvement efforts and impact fire districts, libraries and other taxing entities, city staff warned this week.

An October 10 Keizer City Council work session has been set to discuss the city’s options, including extending the life of the Keizer Urban Renewal District. The city would need written permission from at least 75 percent of the other taxing districts to extend the urban renewal district’s lifespan.

Developer Chuck Sides is more than a year behind on local improvement district payments, with past due payments totaling about $858,246 on land he owns or leases at the shopping development.

The meeting starts at 5:45 p.m. at the Keizer Civic Center. Sides told the Keizertimes he hopes to have the debt resolved by then.

“We’ve been working with (the city),” Sides said. “We understand it’s our debt.”

Local improvement districts are a government-backed way for property owners to build public improvements like street, water and sewer service. The city agreed to support Keizer Station developing firm Northwest National LLC with $26.8 million in taxpayer-backed bonds.

The city collects payments from the benefiting landowners every six months; installments include portions for principal and interest. While bondholders get regularly-paid interest installments, the principal is not due until a giant balloon payment in 2031. The city has yet to collect more than $24.3 million of that principal because it isn’t yet due.

While that payment isn’t due for many years, Finance Director Susan Gahlsdorf’s financial model shows the city will fall behind on principal fund contributions as soon as December. She said the city would need an additional $400,000 per year to keep up.

She and other city staff propose extending the life of the urban renewal district to help pay for the debt, lest general fund services be drastically affected when the final payment is due.

That said, other options are on the table: Sides and fellow landowners could pay off the debt, or the city could foreclose on the properties the money is owed on. If that land is later sold, funds could be used to help pay off the local improvement district debt.

Play, sit at Country Glen

Pictured at Country Glen Park are, top row, Micah Wright, 10, Jacob Cremer and Tobias Smith, both 11; bottom row, Avery Smith, 10, McKenzie Walker, 10 (with dog Molly) and Jake McClain, 11. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

In a nutshell: Country Glen Park serves not only the Clear Lake area of north Keizer, but connects with the Gubser and Hidden Creek areas via an paved path and pedestrian bridge.

Time visited: 3 p.m. on a Thursday.

Size: 5.9 acres

Who was there: A couple of walkers and a group of kids.

Where it is: Bordered by Labish Creek on the south side, it’s accessible via Parkside Court NE and pedestrian paths from Lazy Creek Drive NE and 14th Avenue NE in Gubser. [MAP; 14]

Mowing level: Good. Very recently mowed, few weeds and grass has survived summer thanks to irrigation.

What’s there: Everything a family could want is just within a few steps.

The big toy includes several fun slides along with poles to climb and those tubes where you talk to each other ala the old cans-on-a-string. Is in mostly excellent shape.

For grownups, the star of this park is the paved pathway that runs through the park’s south end along Labish Creek. It connects to both the Gubser area and to Lazy Creek Drive.

There’s also a water fountain and portable toilet, both of which were in good operating order.

Two covered picnic tables are right by the big toy. The field nearby is cleared of trees, meaning it’s great for any loosely-organized sport played on grass.

If you want a little peace and quiet head over to Labish Creek. Depending on the season it may be a drainage creek or just a ditch, but in any case the natural vegetation provides a respite from the daily grind.

There’s no parking lot but there is ample parking along the south side of Parkside Court NE. Please keep speeds down; it’s a residential neighborhood and kids routinely dart across the street.

Maintenance issues: The kids there pointed out one of the seats for talking into the aforemteioned can-on-a-string tubes is broken and unusable.

Park history: The park was acquired via negotiations with Epping Construction. The park is prone to flooding.

Miscellany: While we have fun testing out the slides and pulling on things to see if they break, the best people to ask are the kids that use it. The group we met said Country Glen Park is “actually pretty good,” but noted the aforementioned broken seat and told us there’s graffiti under the slides.

Are swing sets out of style? None of the parks with newer amenities seem to have them.  And we wish the portable toilet wasn’t the first thing you see when you swing left onto Parkside Court.

Here a garden, there a garden

We applaud the efforts of residents of Harcourt Avenue to create a neighborhood garden.  It’s a neat idea but as it was pointed out at Monday’s city council meeting there are some glitches.

The main glitch is the fact that the proposed site is in a public right-of-way.  The city attorney has been instructed by the city council to establish if such a garden is even legal in a right-of-way.

The other glitch is that not all the neighboring homeowners are aboard with the plan, citing the potential of increased crime that a public garden might attract.  That notion was pooh-poohed by Police Chief Marc Adams, but the concerns of neighbors can not be discounted.

A community garden established on a public right-of-way at Harcourt Avenue would open the door for other parts of the city to seek the same privilege. That’s a genie that could not be put back into the bottle once it’s let out.

It’s important that neighbors get to know each other.  A community garden is not the only avenue; residents who desire an increase in communication amongst themselves can establish a Neighborhood Watch.  That would certainly allay fears of crime if they all watch out for each other.

In this space we have called for the city to offer plots for community gardens in city parks.  The precedent was set when a garden was established at Mike Whittam Park on Ridge Drive.

There are more than 210 acres of park space in Keizer.  A little corner in most parks can be turned into a garden plot for community members to lease for the season at the same $25 rate charged at Whittam Park.

For the residents of Harcourt Avenue a garden at Claggett Creek Park would be close. And as for fostering a cohesive neighborhood, they can launch a watch.  That would be a winning solution for all involved.

With the assistance of Marion-Polk Food Share’s community garden program and a go-ahead from the city, Keizer residents can be harvesting a bounty by next spring and summer.

—LAZ

They can’t do it alone

Salem-Keizer Schools has announced that it must find another $20 million in cuts from next year’s budget.

The schools we send our kids too have taken a beating this year due to cuts.  Some decry the fact that swimming is a threatened sport; other programs will probably be on the chopping block soon.

Budgets for government ententies are complex and are confusing to the public.  Revenue comes from various sources, of course taxes, but also grants that come with strings attached.  Mandates for schools from the federal government are not a suggestion, they are required to be funded.  Many of the federal mandates are designed to assure that children get an education.  Those education mandates require that they be administered by the school district which takes a hunk of money away from the classroom and the schools.

Classroom sizes are increasing, teachers are under-supplied, school libraries are closing.  In today’s climate the schools and its staff can’t do it all alone.  If we want to assure our children get a quality education we all must do what we can to help.

For example, critical high school counselor positions have been cut throughout the district.  Students rely on those counselors for advice and information on everything from career guidance, scholarships and surviving daily life in school.

Counselors can’t possibly aid all the students who need it.  That’s where mentors from the public can lift some of the burden while helping our kids, some who are at risk.  Citizen mentors need to undergo a background check.  But that should be the only major impediment.  Schools and the school district should make it easy for parents and community leaders to be involved in the school.

They can’t do it alone. Not these days.

—LAZ

Training begets good leadership

By CATHY CLARK and
BRANDON SMITH

We attended the recent League of Oregon Cities conference.  The topics chosen for this year’s gathering were very relevant for Keizer. Joining with city officials from around the state, we had the chance to visit with leaders who have great ideas to share.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Sheila Sheinberg, also an instructor for the Chinook Institute, used the compelling story of Moses to illustrate the challenges of leadership. Recognizing anomalies as signals for impending change, she encouraged all of us to find the opportunities and possibilities those changes offer.

Dr. Rick Kirschner’s keynote address on The Art of Change was insightful, particularly the discussion of how we move out of the realm of assumptions which  create unnecessary stress, and engage in constructive feedback focused on the issue. He offered a case study on the Ashland City Council, which at the time was experiencing a period of turmoil.  He walked the audience through the process of dealing with internal conflict, disrespectful meetings and unfinished business.

There was a workshop on the top ten Dos and Don’ts of collective bargaining, presented by two experts, Diana Moffat and Steven Schuback. They gave an outline of the convoluted process which has been established through law and litigation.

The Social Media and Public Communication workshop was helpful in not only describing the possibilities that Facebook and other media present, but also discussed policies, freedom of speech, and copyright and other legal issues that cities need to address at the same time. Bend and Hillsboro were held up as examples.  The City of Bend utilizes not only Facebook but also Twitter, YouTube and its own iPhone app to facilitate communication between the city and its citizens.

Two workshops on economic development emphasized the benefits of collaboration and setting aside past conflicts. In a round-table style conversation, people shared innovative ways in which they have solved problems, including providing public safety, turning vacant lots into community gardens, facilitating business development through a “business incubator” and more. It was pointed out that city employees are especially motivated to find efficiencies and new ways of serving because they are citizens and their work affects them, too. In addition, when employees are shown respect for their knowledge and experience, they are more likely to share their ideas and help implement them as part of the team. That certainly has been our experience in Keizer.

A second economic development workshop, Collaborative Approach for Economic Development, told the story of St. Helens, Oregon. After decades of conflict between jurisdictions and between private and public institutions, they created  the Columbia County Economic Team that brought together cities, county, state agencies, businesses, and business organizations that had a clear mission to create, attract, retain, and expand business opportunities in the area. They concluded that “talk can launch a team – but only action can sustain it.”

Each year, we learn more about how to serve the citizens of Keizer and return energized to put those ideas into practice. Our own council rules, established years ago, requires councilors to attend at least one training session per year, which we believe is a good investment in the community members who volunteer to serve in leadership.

Cathy Clark and Brandon Smith are members of the Keizer City Council.

Is Mitt the next Meg Whitman?

By DEBRA SAUNDERS

Mitt Romney is the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary. In recent debates, the former Massachusetts governor has shone while Texas Gov. Rick Perry has stumbled. Those who were hoping for a candidate with more seasoning are starting to face facts. They’re stuck with the dates who actually knocked at the door. And many are thinking that Romney is the Republican likeliest to prevail against President Barack Obama.

My question: Is Romney really the most electable Republican?

That’s what the smart money said about Meg Whitman when she ran for California governor in 2010. Like Romney, Whitman boasted that it was a plus that she was not a “career politician.” As the former eBay CEO —who, by the way, used to work on Romney’s turf at Bain & Co.—she claimed the boardroom savvy and leadership style needed to woo voters desperate for a competent executive who could improve California’s business climate. But after Whitman used her fortune to win the nod, Democrat Jerry Brown trounced her, 54-41 percent.

Now, Romney is not Whitman. He is an experienced candidate and has served in public office. And Whitman didn’t help herself by pouring nearly $150 million of her own money into her campaign. She made it too easy for critics (like me) to charge that she was trying to buy the election.

Also, Romney doesn’t have to win California to win the White House. But Whitman’s loss demonstrates how Democrats can turn private-sector gold into electoral tin. Call it reverse alchemy.

Whitman had the perfect calling card—eBay, a popular, successful company with big brand identification. No worries. Opponents tied her to another, unpopular corporation, Goldman Sachs, because she had been on the investment firm’s board in 2001.

Most voters never have heard of Romney’s baby, Bain Capital. If Romney is the GOP nominee, however, folks will hear plenty about every worker layoff and plant closing that occurred under the investment firm’s direction.

Career politicians know better than to hire illegal immigrants. Actually, so did Whitman. She went through a service to find a part-time housekeeper. She paid Nicandra Diaz Santillan $23 per hour. When Diaz told Whitman she was undocumented in 2009, Whitman fired her. When Diaz went public in September 2010, the controversy shut down any chance Whitman had of winning the governor’s office.

Before the 2008 election, The Boston Globe tracked down the landscaping firm hired by Romney. Some of the workers apparently were illegal.

There’s an impossible standard for non-politician candidates. Romney, it seems, was supposed to check the documents of people who worked for people who worked for him. Reporters seemed to think Whitman was supposed to suspect that Diaz, with her heavy accent, was illegal.

Romney has been running a smooth, professional campaign. When the primary is settled, however, this race will be an entirely different game. The personal attacks will be relentless.

Romney might not have a housekeeper, observed Dan Schnur, a former GOP political strategist and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, but “they’re going to come at him with a dozen laid-off factory workers.”

If it’s Romney vs. Obama, the race will teeter on how Romney is defined—whether the public sees him as “a battle-tested private-sector jobs creator or an out-of-touch plutocrat layoff artist.”

“Whoever wins that fight,” quoth Schnur, “wins the election.”

(Creators Syndicate)

KNOW event was a success

To the Editor:

On behalf of The Keizer Chamber Foundation and the Keizer Network of Women (KNOW), I want to thank all who supported Percey Presents:Ladies’ Night  Out.  A special thank you to Edward Jones (Sheryl Resner and Mario Montiel) for sponsoring this event.  I think it’s safe to say over 150 women who attended the event had an amazing time!  We can’t thank you enough for your generosity and support you have shown to this event.

We look forward to more of the same, only bigger and better next year!  Mark your calendar for Percey Presents next September.

KNOW hosts the Keizer Chamber Foundation Giving Basket Program.  We will serve 125 underprivileged families in the Keizer community this holiday season (nearly 400 children).  We look for your support at the upcoming Pancakes and Boos, Saturday, Oct. 29, at Applebee’s, 7-10 a.m..  At the Percey event 30 children have been sponsored.

Audrey T. Butler
and the women of KNOW
Keizer