As the John Day City Council began to wrap up the last meeting of 2019, a county resident raised his hand with concerns.
Steve A. Parsons of Mt. Vernon asked a variety of question regarding grants, taxes and the job duties of John Day City Manager Nick Green.
“It’s a lot easier coming into a meeting and asking questions than just hearing rumors on the streets,” Parsons said. “That’s the reason why I came tonight.”
Parsons asked if writing, managing and collecting administrative fees from grants were part of Green’s job — and whether the 1% administrative fee the council agreed to pay to Green from the proceeds from successful grants was ethical. He asked if Green worked on the grants during his office hours.
Green said these grants require work during his office hours and at home.
“We’ve been awarded 23 grants, and it’s a lot of extra time,” he said.
Councilor Shannon Adair said, if the city didn’t have Green working on grants, it would have to pay somebody else for the work, which would cost more than the 1% administrative fee.
“When we hired (Green), that was not a part of what we hired him to do,” said John Day Mayor Ron Lundbom. “But it’s turned into something that he’s been successful in. (The 1% fee is) well within the scope of what is customary out there in the industry, and I don’t want to begrudge him at all for getting rewarded for being successful in doing something that’s been really beneficial to the city.”
Green also noted that, despite the time he has to spend on the applications, not all the grants have been awarded.
“1% of zero is zero,” Green said.
Lundbom said the city auditor confirmed the fee was not inappropriate.
Parsons asked if Green reports the income he receives from the grants and whether he pays taxes on it. Green said the income is included on his pay stub as taxable wages.
Parsons then asked about possible tax increases related to the Innovation Gateway project. An area plan from a consultant that was presented in November listed possible sources of new revenue for the city from fees and taxes, but the city has not chosen to pursue any of them except the transient room tax assessed on the occupants of temporary lodging.
“We knew the consultants presented them to us, but we chose not to do any of them,” said Councilor Dave Holland of the possible revenue options. “We are not raising taxes. We are creating value that allow for taxes.”
In Oregon, cities cannot raise their permanent base property tax rate. Other taxes — such as a local sales tax — or short-term revenue options — such as bonds and local option levies — require voter approval.
Parsons then asked about the city’s housing incentive rebates and how effective the program has been.
“We want our lands to be productive again,” Green said. “We’ve got this 50-acre ground fill that’s not employing anyone, it’s not bringing any tax revenue, it’s an eyesore and it was abandoned. If that’s the alternative — that we stay in that stagnant environment — who benefits?”
Lundbom said John Day has seen more homes built in the last year than in the last 10, thanks to the rebates.
Others have expressed concerns that the program — which provides rebates to people who build or complete major remodels of homes within the urban renewal district boundary — benefits a limited number of people within the boundary and that construction had already begun on some of the sites within the boundary, defeating the purpose of providing incentives to build.
Green, who received a rebate from a home that was already under construction, said the district boundaries could be amended to allow anyone who wanted to participate in the program to be included — making the program as inclusive as possible.
When the Urban Renewal Agency, comprised of the city council members, met following the regular council meeting, it approved a resolution amending the district boundaries, removing one property and adding four to the district based on applications submitted to the agency.