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Month: November 2011

Debt payment plan up for vote

KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The Keizer City Council could vote to extend the urban renewal district to pay down bond debt as soon as Monday, Nov. 21.

An alternative plan proposed by Councilor Joe Egli – which would use monies coming back to the urban renewal district after its expiration to pay down the debt – has gained little traction among fellow councilors. The Planning Commission and Keizer Urban Renewal Board (KURB) also signed off on the extension plan at a meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 9.

The proposal would strip all funding from the city’s River Road Renaissance project, which was implemented to ensure what is in effect Keizer’s Main Street from adverse effects resulting from Keizer Station’s development.

It would allow the urban renewal district to collect 35 percent of what it would have collected with a simple extension of the district, with 65 percent going to taxing districts like Marion County, Salem-Keizer School District, Keizer Fire District and others.

A group of these agencies making up at least 75 percent of the taxing base must consent. That means the Salem-Keizer School District, which would receive 35 percent of revenue from the expired urban renewal district, is a key player. Schools, however, are somewhat insulated in that the state shared school fund makes up the difference when urban renewal districts are formed.

So far, Willamette Education Service District and Marion Soil & Water Conservation District have signed on. The Keizer Fire District Board of Directors rejected the proposal, and Salem-Keizer School District has yet to vote. (See related stories.)

The proposal includes paying back the money other districts would forego, but the city won’t guarantee repayment from the general fund.

The move comes as an original Keizer Station co-developer has failed to make payments on a local improvement district (LID) city officials described last week as the largest in state history.

City councilors in 2008 opted to put the full faith and credit of the city behind Keizer Station’s developers with $26.8 million in bonds. The assessment was spread out over benefiting property owners within the shopping complex.

Some land owners, like Target, paid theirs immediately. Alan Roodhouse, an original partner in the development, continues to make regular, on-time payments. And much of the development was sold to Donahue Schriber, a Costa Mesa, Calif.–based shopping center development and operating firm which likewise continues to make payments.

But Chuck Sides, who partnered to start the development, has not made payments since January 2011. Assessments are sent out every February and August. On the five parcels owned or controlled by Sides, the August 2010 assessments are paid off on three of the five parcels. Partial payments were made were made on the other two. The city has gotten no payments on February or August 2011 billings as of this writing.

City officials have said there’s no outcome – other than Sides making his payments current – that would allow him to keep the land on which the assessments were levied. But at the same time they have repeatedly refused to discuss details of the foreclosure process.

State statutes governing local improvement districts appears to allow for foreclosure after one year of non-payment. This means only some of the parcels appear to be eligible for foreclosure, and one of them has virtually no value – in fact, the county doesn’t levy any taxes on it.

“That property has a number of power poles on it,” said Steve Miner, supervisor of the county’s commercial tax division. “It’s basically unusable land.”

But Sides wouldn’t be the only property owner to suffer consequences. Two of the five parcels are owned by the Rawlins family and their companies.

All parties involved have said Sides and the Rawlins family have a lease agreement whereby Sides is obligated to make payments on the LID.

 

‘Go it alone’ gets little love

Egli has made clear his objections to city staff’s plan. He has proposed taking some of the new money the city would receive when the urban renewal district expires and using it to pay down on the debt.

Susan Gahlsdorf, the city’s finance director, said going that route would cause layoffs in the next coming budget cycle in anticipation of future financial difficulties. And Egli’s plan would ultimately cost more in interest because principal payments would not be made at the same pace as the proposal preferred by most city councilors.

But to Egli, other taxing districts shouldn’t suffer financially due to a risk the city took on. He said it would prevent the county from hiring sheriff’s deputies, the fire district from taking on firefighters and the transit district from hiring a bus driver.

Gahlsdorf said taxing districts will benefit from additional taxing revenue as a result of Keizer Station, adding the city took on 100 percent of the risk while only receiving 14 percent of revenue.

Egli, a former Keizer Chamber of Commerce president, also decried that River Road Renaissance funds would be going back to Keizver Station.

“Now we are using River Road Renaissance funds to support the development that the funds were set up to help protect against,” Egli said.

Some other councilors feel allowing the city to take on all the burden is financially irresponsible.

“This is the responsible thing to do,” said Councilor Cathy Clark. “I want to make sure we ensure the solvency and longevity of our most vulnerable fund, and that’s our general fund.”

While hardly scientific (only 22 members replied), a Keizer Chamber of Commerce survey showed a majority of respondents disapproved of the plan.

Cops seek suspects in home invasion

Police are investigating a Friday night home invasion at a Keizer apartment complex.

The six victims were watching TV at Partridge Lane Apartments when a man burst through an unlocked door, waved a handgun and demanded money. Police got the report at about 7:55 p.m. Friday night.

With a second suspect at the front door as a lookout, the gunman pointed a silver-colored handgun directly at the victims and began counting down from 10 after demanding money and jewelry.

The suspects fled in a red four-door sedan, possibly a Cadillac.

The man with the gun is described as a hispanic male adult standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. He has goatee-style facial hair and was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, black pants and a black New York Yankees baseball cap.

THe second suspect, a Hispanic male believed to be in his late teens, had a similar build and was wearing a black cap with a yellow P on the front.

No one was hurt in the incident, but the suspects got away with cash and jewelry.

Anyone with information is asked to call Keizer Police at 503-390-3713.

Two Lady Celts to join Division I teams

McNary High School seniors Hailey Decker and Deven Hunter sign letters of commitment to play for the University of Nebraska and Oregon State University, respectively. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Next year, two Lady Celt athletes will be playing for different mascots.

McNary High School’s Hailey Decker and Deven Hunter signed letters of commitment to play with University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Oregon State University Beavers, respectively.

The signings took place in a special ceremony before school Wednesday, Nov. 9. Decker will play softball for the Cornhuskers and Hunter will play basketball for the Beavers, but both have been multisport athletes in high school.

Decker’s path to Nebraska – whether or not she realized it then – began when she was in the sixth grade. That’s when Nebraska Head Coach Rhonda Revelle first heard her name.

Revelle, herself a native Oregonian and graduate of North Eugene High School, was contacted by Jerry Howard, the Volcanoes marketing manager, and told her that she should be looking at the daughter of the Volcanoes then-coach Steve Decker. Howard and Revelle’s father had been good friends.

“I kind of giggled because she was so young, but a few years later I started hearing her name in softball circles,” Revelle said. “It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots. Her athleticism and her competitiveness and the combination of power and speed and the drive to be the best she can be makes her a very exciting prospect for us.”

For her part, Decker had to be forced by her parents to make the visit to Nebraska. In the wide spectrum of lifestyle options spanning the 50 states, Nebraska is rarely a top pick. Happily, all of Decker’s preconceived notions were quickly vaporized.

“The people, the coaches, the facilities were all above and beyond the other places I visited,” she said.

Decker’s McNary coach, Jeff Auvinen, lauded her efforts through four years as a varsity starter, “It’s kind of rare for a freshman to step in and have the kind of impact she’s had, but she didn’t just rest on that. Each year she’s gotten better and better and better.”

Revelle said Decker is one of a promising class of recruits that will help them improve on their 21st place finish in the NCAA polls last season.

Since professional softball leagues don’t get the spotlight they might deserve, Decker said she’s happy to be able to play at one of the sport’s highest levels, “It’s all excitement. I’m going to miss my family like crazy, but I’ve had two years to prepare and I’m ready.”

For Hunter, the appeal of college-level basketball came down to a single thing.

“Getting to be on TV,” she said. “I’m kind of nervous for the whole thing, but you have to kind of be prepared for anything.”

She visited University of Arizona, Washington State University, Arizona State University and Kansas State University in addition to OSU, but it was the Beavers who stole her heart.

“I really liked the coaches and they made it feel like it would  be fun to be there. It’s also close to home, so family will be able to come and be in the crowd at games,” she said.

Hunter joins a Beaver program that’s struggled in recent seasons, but McNary basketball coach Molly Gehley advised attendees at the signing to start buying season tickets with the addition of Hunter to the roster.

“Deven was a top priority from our first day on the job,” said OSU Head Coach Scott Rueck in a press release. “She is a phenomenal athlete and a big-time competitor. She’s a power forward who has the ability to score with her back to the basket as well as step out and shoot from beyond the three-point line. With her ability, her toughness and her determination, Deven will be an outstanding player on both ends of the floor in our system.”

Gehley said Hunter’s work ethic over the past four seasons is what made her a sought-after player, “It wasn’t great when she was a freshman, but she’s grown to be a leader on and off the court with an excellent academic record.”

Hunter averaged 18 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last season and earned All-Central Valley Conference First Team honors.

As fee fails, cop cuts may loom

KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A proposed public safety ballot measure was crushed at the ballot box, as opponents enjoyed more than a two-to-one fundraising advantage over supporters.

But election results were even more lopsided, as 80 percent of the vote went against the ballot measure. It would have added a $4.86 assessment to monthly utility bills. Preliminary results show 5,898 voted against the measure, with just 1,471 signaling their support.

Now there’s the question of what happens next to the two agencies who sought to benefit most from the measure.

Cuts could be looming next year at Keizer Police, said Chief Marc Adams.

“My best hope is that we’ll have a status quo but I don’t foresee that happening,” Adams said. “I think there will be some kind of cuts, I just don’t know how bad.”

Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan believes he can get through 2012-13 without staff cuts.

“After that it gets dicey,” Cowan said.

He said voters will ultimately have three opportunities in the next four years to weigh in on the district’s funding situation: A March 2012 referendum on the Clear Lake annexation,  a November 2014 renewal of the district’s operating levy, and signing on for equipment bonds once the fire hall bonds expire in 2015. Cowan is touting it as the “cost-neutral” plan, saying it would be a continuation of taxes ratepayers are already providing.

“We’ll be working hard to tighten our belt,” Cowan said. “Getting approval from the voters is the only method we have available to us when it comes to public funding.”

Funds would have gone primarily to the Keizer Police Department and Keizer Fire District, with a small slice going to Marion County Fire District No. 1.

Opposition group No More Unfair Taxes got a late start, but in the last few weeks raised about $26,185 to fight the measure. Major contributors included Shelter Management Inc. ($4,000), Emerald Pointe LLC $4,300), Hawk’s Point Apartments ($3,420) and Hawk’s Point Phase Two LLC ($2,560), Mountain West Investment Corp. ($2,000), Windsor Court Apartments, Inc. ($1,920), Trail Development LLC ($2,550), and Lakeshore Apartments LLC ($2,400).

Major financial supporters of the measure included the Keizer Professional Firefighters union, which put in $5,000, the Keizer Police Association with $1,000 and Avamere Living, which contributed $2,500.

Tim Smith and Lee Sjothun led the No More Unfair Taxes committee, while Keizer City Councilor Mark Caillier oversaw Keizer Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods, which supported the measure.

“I think the overall message was how much the citizens of Keizer are hurting financially,” Smith said. “They just don’t have any more to give.”

Smith said multi-unit residential complexes like apartments and some senior housing facilities would have borne the brunt of the fee, which was to be assessed on City of Keizer utility bills.

“It had an impact on a per-unit basis, one none of the senior citizens at my apartments nor at senior housing could afford,” Smith said.

While past election results reveal a largely conservative electorate, Keizer voters have supported public safety with their pocketbooks in the past. A 35-cent operating levy for Keizer Fire District remains in effect, and a 15-cent per $1,000 bond for KFD’s fire hall is a few years from expiring. Keizerites turned down a one-year, $1.61 city operating levy in 1996, but approved a $1.55 levy just two months later.

“With all the things going on in Keizer right now, I think people are telling us we need to be very fiscally conservative and work our way out of any issues with the resources we’re provided,” Caillier said.

About 42 percent of voters submitted a ballot.

Keizer FD rejects city debt plan

Jeff Cowan

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

If the City of Keizer manages to extend its Urban Renewal District, it will do it without the support of the Keizer Fire District.

Citing concerns about appearances to taxpayers and the crater left in budget forecasts if the urban renewal district continues, the Keizer Fire Board unanimously rejected the city’s plea to support the extension of the special taxing district.

“For years, we’ve told people how [the urban renewal district] harmed the fire district. I can’t, with a straight face, ask those same people to renew our bond levies if we give up this money,” said Director Mike Kurtz prior to the vote.

Director Greg Ego said it would be unfair to place the city’s predicament on the backs of taxpayers contributing to the Keizer Fire District.

The Fire District recently completed a five-year budget forecast that projected revenues and shortfalls with the end of the district and with it continuing at a decreased rates. The projections showed a $289,000 deficit in five years with the district ending and a $952,000 deficit with it continuing at a decreased rate.

“$289,000 is a ditch I can avoid. Nearly $1 million is a trainwreck we’re not prepared for,” said Fire Chief Jeff Cowan after the meeting. Cowan said the district will be able to absorb the smaller shortfall through staff attrition and less overtime among other tactics.

To assure they’ll be able to make payments on bonded debt issued to develop street, sewer and other infrastructure in Keizer Station, City officials are proposing an extension of the urban renewal district that would shrink revenues to about 35 percent of what the district is allowed to collect. The remaining 65 percent would go back to taxing entities like Marion County, Salem-Keizer Transit, Keizer Fire, Marion County Fire District No. 1 and others.

Original Keizer Station developer Chuck Sides owes about $8.5 million for tracts of property he still owns in the Keizer Station area and has fallen behind on payments. The city has until December to extend the district so that Sides’ local improvement district debt won’t massively impact basic city services. Much of Keizer Station is now owned by other parties that are continuing to make debt service payments.

While the Keizer Fire Board withheld its support for the extension of the urban renewal district, the city could still succeed in its bid to lengthen the district’s life. If the city can garner approvals from taxing districts representing 75 percent of the total money collected within the urban renewal districts, its life could be extended.

Urban renewal’s past and future important to city

By CATHY CLARK

Keizer’s only Urban Renewal District has been used to build projects important to Keizer residents and businesses and is now needed to ensure the city can stay on track to pay off the Local Improvement District (L.I.D.). The proceeds from those L.I.D. properties will then allow us to eventually continue improvements on River Road.

Urban Renewal paid for repaving River Road and putting utility wires underground, upgrading sidewalks and landscaping, and designing safer driveways. Keizer Station roadways, Cherry Avenue upgrades, and our Civic Center all were possible and paid in full because of Urban Renewal. And private investment has followed public investment. From façade improvements to new construction, these sections of Keizer have seen growth.

Urban Renewal has been based on public processes like River Road Renaissance and Keizer Compass Visioning that created plans and goals to guide project selection. The citizen Keizer Urban Renewal Board and River Road Renaissance committee have worked hard to make sure projects carry out those goals.

The Urban Renewal district has run its course. The taxes from the improvements will soon finish paying for projects and become part of paying our regular bills, which is what the city and taxing districts that also serve Keizer have been looking forward to. Urban Renewal has done exactly what it was designed to do.

Part of paying for Keizer Station roads and utilities, however, involved forming the Keizer Station L.I.D. Property owners repay the city for development costs through the L.I.D. and save money through lower interest rates. The city benefits from increased property values and paying principal as quickly as allowed. The L.I.D. bond debt was designed with a conservative early payoff plan with no balloon payment, three times the value to debt ratio, and a cushion in case of a default. No one expected to have to use that cushion, but the long recession has taken its toll and some properties are in default. The good news is that the payoff model is almost to the point where even the default will not cause a balloon payment for the city. Reserving a portion of the Urban Renewal District funds will ensure the city payoff plan stays on track.

Our city staff is working hard with financial experts to make sure we reserve only what we need. The city already took the unprecedented step in 2006 to shrink the Urban Renewal District early, benefiting schools, the county, public safety, etc. Our plan is to shrink it again by about another 66 percent. Finally, in four years, sooner if possible, when the city’s L.I.D. repayment fund is securely on schedule, the district will close completely.

The financial health and security of our city ensures we can reliably provide essential services. Pushing problems into the future for “someone else” to deal with is not responsible, financially or ethically. Together, we plan for the worst and work toward the best to make sure we return the best possible service for each dollar received from Keizer taxpayers.

Cathy Clark is a member of the Keizer City Council.

Taxpayers will have to pay

A Box of Soap
By DON VOWELL

I voted against the 911 measure.  I wouldn’t have been disappointed at all if it had passed.  Keizer is sometimes too proud by half of its public penny-pinching.  If you demand services you should be honest enough to pay for them.  Maybe we could decide better what to pay for.

One of the promos sent out to support this measure said that Keizer has only 37 officers, less officers per capita than other cities of a comparable size.  The Keizer Police web site says 40 sworn officers.  Thirty-seven officers working 40 hours a week would combine for 1,480 hours in total.  There are only 168 hours in a week, so the simple computation is that 8.8 officers are available 24 hours a day.

The same web site says that only 13 of the sworn officers are patrol officers.  That makes the 168 hours much more difficult to cover.  If you are interested in what the other 27 officers do, you’ll find it at the web site.  Because I am an average citizen spending most of my time on the business of survival, I cannot competently argue against all the department necessities that require two thirds of their staff doing something besides patrolling the streets.  In the end it just means that I can find no sympathy for yet another funding plea.

This is no attempt to belittle our police department or accuse them of anything.  They are competent, professional, and dedicated.  I feel comfortable and safe living in Keizer thanks to their ability to keep us safe.  It is more an attempt to understand the frightening spiral of the growing cost of, well, everything.

We are asked to make payments for Keizer Station improvements because the developer can’t.  When this project was sold to us, did anyone consider that it might not pay for itself?  Maybe the mix of available stores, which you must helplessly circle to find an entrance, is neither a great planning achievement, nor a shopping mecca.

The thirty-four million dollar Courthouse Square in downtown Salem is a monument to current practices.  The architects and builders have combined to settle for $1.8 million.  That leaves only $32.2 million for you and I to contribute, until they decide to raze it or make repairs.  That’s extra.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge was begun in 1962 and completed for $24 million.  The morning paper says it will cost $50 million to sandblast it and replace some rivets.  We need to do that in order to stave off an estimated billion dollar replacement cost.  Maintenance I understand.  The cost, I don’t.  If you took the long way around to get to Astoria, you could drive from Corvallis to the coast in order to see one of ODOT’s most expensive project ever, which has not opened because the earth under it continues to move.

This is at the heart of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.  We all share the belief that things are going badly wrong.   Americans are dissatisfied at both the amounts they are asked to pay, and the certainty that governments at every level will use those funds in the least effective way.  Even more certain, in all these calamities, is that taxpayers always pay for the clean-up.  From Wall Street bailouts to Keizer Station miscalculation, business answers for nothing.

Don Vowell lives in Keizer.

Keizer volunteer of the quarter

To the Editor:

At the Nov. 7 city council meeting, Barb Smith Henke received the city’s Volunteer of the Quarter award because of the countless hours she devoted to the Keizer Tennis Association’s (KTA) Slammin’ Summer Tennis Program.

Barb wears many hats. She is KTA’s treasurer, web master, an instructor, volunteer coordinator, a sponsor of the KTA through her business, BSH Consulting,  and registration coordinator. She helped design our summer flier and rounded up some wonderful local sponsors to boot. She marched in the Iris Festival parade. She introduced tennis  to the kids participating in the Keizer Parks Foundation/Boys and Girls Club Wild Wild Rec program.

Barb also assisted other instructors with their lessons.  KTA’s summer program held at North River Road Park in Salem because the McNary High School courts were closed and since the Willamette Manor Park tennis court and the Bob Newton Family Park tennis court are not suitable for holding larger clinics.

In closing, I know that Barb Smith Henke shares her passion for tennis with everyone she meets. Last Monday night at the council meeting, she even invited Mayor Lore Christopher to play tennis. I sure hope that happens.

I just want to say, great job, Barb!

Rick Hammerquist
Keizer Tennis Association

How safe will you feel now?

To the Editor:

I will say thank you, with extreme sarcasm, to all of you that voted against the 911 tax.

Michael Kurtz made some good points in his letter (“It’s a lousy time to ask for new taxes,” Keizertimes, Nov. 4), which obviously fell upon deaf ears. I would have been happy to pay twice to help our local police and fire district protect us; I have a residence and a business in Keizer.  That would have been getting off cheap.

These services have already been cut to the bone, and now have to be reduced further. In spite of that they have done a fantastic job keeping us all safe, don’t expect that to continue. I for one will be upgrading my personal firearm and self defense training, home and business security systems, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, which will cost me a lot more than a little tax. And I suggest you all do the same as we may become known as easy pickins’ to the criminal element.

It’s sad we all want more or better services, but when it comes time we are not willing to pay for it. Is throwing more money at a problem the answer? Probably not, but more money is needed. I don’t have the answers. I’m too busy trying to figure out how to keep my business open, working seven days a week in this horrible economy, while my assets dwindle away until I can no longer pay my bills or I lose my house. Now I have to worry more about the safety of my family and property.

Tony Grove
Keizer

Keizer’s financial position

To the Editor:

The City of Keizer finds itself in a precarious financial position due to a developer of Keizer Station Area A being significantly delinquent on payments he owes the city.  The city is responsible for fulfilling bond payments taken out for land improvements in Keizer Station. Unlike developers, the city does not have the option to not pay its bills.

At the Keizer Urban Renewal Agency meeting Monday, Nov. 7, the agency (aka Keizer City Council) voted 6 – 1 to recommend to the council that it amend the North River Road Urban Renewal District plan to allow the city to manage its bond payments and stay on schedule to pay off the bonds.

If the North River Road Urban Renewal District plan was going to be amended to support the continued improvements along River Road, I would not have a problem with it.  The City of Keizer should be doing everything it can to support what has been the core of our business community and the heart of our city for so many years.  But the fact that this is being done in order to cover the developer’s delinquent payments is wrong, pure and simple.

To say this doesn’t end the River Road Renaissance project, it just defunds it, as Councilor Clark said a couple of weeks ago, is ludicrous.

I applaud City Councilor Joe Egli, a voice of integrity and reason in this discussion.  I applaud his courage in being able to take a dissenting position and advocate for what is right.  I applaud him trying to come up with alternative strategies for addressing the problem.

When this issue comes before the council, I hope the members will step back and think long and hard about what the River Road merchants have done for this city, and what the council is now poised to “do” to them.

Jane Mulholland
Keep Keizer Livable