It’s time for the city to take a new approach to the numerous projects related to its strategy for growth, City Manager Nick Green explained in his March 26 State of the City address, focusing on more collaboration and partnership-building.

Green said he wanted to conduct his address using Teddy Roosevelt’s “get to the point” style and Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside-chat approach. Citing too much negativity, too many dark and nasty allegations and so much tainted interaction online, he said it was time to fight back.

Green said he’s working harder now than at any other job — adding that he is a “workaholic.” He commended city staff for all the hard work they’ve done and then proceeded to fact-check his progress based on nine goals he set in his 2018 State of the City address.

City staff had been reduced by one third by transitioning 911 dispatch out of city government, Green said, and he had completed most of the compensation analysis and adjustments for city staff. The local income survey needed for a federal government grant to help pay for a new wastewater treatment plant was completed, and the city qualified for a $2.5 million federal grant.

The city saved about $300,000 by consolidating loans for the industrial park and the West End Water System project, and the money was put to work completing the fire hall, Green said. An urban renewal district has been established as a way to promote new home construction.

Financing for the new wastewater treatment plant was on track, as was development of the Oregon Pine mill site property, Green said. Just prior to his State of the City address, the council unanimously approved a notice of intent to award an engineering design contract for the new wastewater treatment facility to Anderson Perry of La Grande.

The engineering firm was the only bidder, and the price and scope of services will be determined later. Key engineering constraints may delay construction of the new treatment plant, including permitting for disposal of surplus Class 1 reclaimed water.

Two goals from the 2018 State of the City address ran into hurdles that caused delays, Green said. The city’s commercial greenhouses were expected to be completed by October 2018 but instead turned into the city’s first painful lesson in permitting problems, he said.

A grand opening for the city’s new trail network will not take place in 2019 as expected and could be delayed for at least one year — more if a major river restoration project changes the path of the John Day River.

Green said he’s trying to get the best deals he can on financing for city projects. He said he walked away from a recent One Stop infrastructure financing meeting where the state agencies made reasonable offers but the federal agencies did not.

The city’s debt is not beyond the city’s ability to service it, Green said. That’s something he would never do, he noted. A main focus of the city’s strategy for growth will be to improve housing stock.

With so many city projects underway, Green said he didn’t want to burn out or for city staff to burn out. Now was the time to slow down a bit and focus on consensus building and developing partners in a more collaborative style.

Looking forward, a possible doubling of the state phone tax to support 911 dispatch could save the city about $40,000 and the county about $100,000 annually. Green also called on making the local transient tax more competitive with other recreation areas in the state as a new source of revenue.

Green also said he wanted the county to help pay for the city’s roads. He pointed out that the county collects about 20 percent of the property tax from city taxpayers.

Green concluded by saying that he will not always be the city manager here, and he wants to build a legacy. He said he wants to leave the city in better shape than he found it.

The audience generally reacted positively to Green’s address. Sherrie Rininger, who owns the business Etc. on Main Street, asked about the future of the Weaver Building remediation. She also wanted to know when city streets would be cleaned of gravel and dust and when parking space lines and crosswalks would be repainted.

Dusty Williams asked if there was a way to get residents to clean up their properties and remove old cars and junk. Stephanie Williams noted that visitors who come to John Day for events at the Seventh Street Complex leave with a bad impression of the city.

Green applauded the idea. The city has a public nuisance ordinance that covers old cars and junk, he said, but he would need to hire a temporary enforcement officer to implement the law.

In response to a question from former councilor Louis Provencher, Green said construction of the greenhouses was held up by permitting and weather, but even with some unexpected material expenses, the project was close to expected costs.

Green also noted that the greenhouse venture poses some risk but included a “safety relief valve” — if it doesn’t work out, the business could be handed over to a private party and the city could use revenue from a lease to pay off the low-interest loan.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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