Small town mayors looking ahead

Don Porter was recently re-elected as mayor of Long Creek.

Several mayors of Grant County’s small cities didn’t have to face a competitive election this year. These voluntary citizens perform an important function that’s sometimes hard to fill in small, rural communities. As one mayor said, his salary tripled this year — it’s still zero.

Long Creek Mayor Don Porter ran unopposed this year. He was first elected in a 2005 special election. His family has old roots in the community — there’s a Porter Road in the area, he said.

Porter returned to Long Creek in 1984. His wife, Denise, is a schoolteacher and city councilor, and both serve on the volunteer fire department.

Long Creek was on the fast track to becoming a ghost town when he moved there in 1984, Porter said. The motel and his online natural supplements sales business were the only businesses in town, he said.

Today, Long Creek has two convenience stores with groceries, an automotive repair shop with a qualified mechanic and “one and a half” restaurants — a cafe that serves sit-down meals year-round and a seasonal “chuckwagon,” he said. New people were moving into town, and houses were being remodeled, he said.

The city’s infrastructure is sound, Porter noted. The 40-year-old sewer plant was built for 800 people — the city has 100 hookups but could serve 300. The public water system hasn’t seen a major leak, with costs ranging from $5,000-7,000, since 2013.

Long Creek has a good relationship with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police. Problems with speeders on Highway 395 have been reduced, thanks to a radar-controlled speed control sign, but the city needs another on the county road near the school, Porter said.

The No. 1 priority for Long Creek is to improve internet access, Porter said. His wife is now on the Grant County Digital Network Coalition board and committed to doing what she can to bring broadband speeds to the community, he said.

Kenny Delano ran unopposed and won re-election to a second two-year term as mayor of Mt. Vernon. A “Navy brat” who grew up on both coasts, Delano moved to Grant County in 1981, where both his parents grew up. He’s been working in the surveying business since 1983.

Delano played an important role in transitioning the county’s 911 dispatch system from the city of John Day to the Intergovernmental Council. He said he initially got involved as the representative for Mt. Vernon, but as he spoke up at meetings, he found himself appointed chairman of the IGC board.

Mt. Vernon will see some infrastructure projects next year, Delano said. The city received a grant to upgrade the sewer system, including new equipment at the treatment plant, preventing groundwater infiltration in the collection system and extending a main from Highway 26 near Beech Creek north to the Rimrock Lane area.

The city has begun talks with Business Oregon to find funding to update the master plan for the city’s water system. City crews have begun work preparing the city park for new playground that has already been delivered. Using volunteer help, the playground should be ready for children by next spring.

Using its small-city allotment from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city finished some paving work on Highlan Terrace. The allotment may double next fiscal year, Delano said.

Good news for Mt. Vernon residents is that the new owners of the trailer court sold by the county following tax foreclosure are making vital improvements to the water system. The city will help install the upgraded system to a city main, with the new owner covering the costs, Delano said. Some of the burned motel also has been demolished and removed, he added.

Ilah Bennett ran unopposed for mayor of Dayville after being appointed in June. She said she showed up at a city council meeting in June knowing full well that Peter Bogardus was stepping down as mayor and moving out of town, but she was surprised at how quickly the councilors nominated and appointed her as the city’s mayor.

Bennett grew up in Canyon City and moved to Dayville in 2004. She’s been at the post office for 14 years, three years as postmaster.

Bennett comes to the office with no agenda and an interest only in serving her community. She said she wants to keep Dayville going.

Today that means restoring the Community Hall building on Highway 26. Bennett said the facility is usable but needs to be modernized and upgraded. The building needs to be brought up to code, and water and heating problems need to be addressed, she said.

The city is already working on a Community Development Block Grant application to fund the work, Bennett said. The hall sees a lot of use, from potlucks and Fourth of July dances to Halloween events for the school and a winter festival bazaar.

Plans also are in the works to upgrade the Dayville School, Bennett said. Students range from preschool to 12th grade, she said.

Brad Smith said he became mayor of Seneca the same way he became a city councilor in recent years — he was appointed to replace people who had left. He also won election to the council one time by a write-in campaign he hadn’t orchestrated.

That’s the way it goes in rural Oregon cities, Smith said. All told, he’s been on the council for about two decades, but he started out running for the position and winning elections.

Smith grew up in Seneca and, after a few years of college in Bend, went to work at a large ranch near Seneca where he had worked as a young boy. He said he’s been at the ranch for more than 30 years. Smith’s son Brandon is a city councilor for John Day.

Seneca is a small town with the same problems found anywhere else, Smith said. But the city will see a major upgrade next year — a new sewer plant across the Silvies River from the present plant and new water and sewer mains run throughout the city.

Smith credits former City Manager Josh Walker for getting the huge project underway and for keeping an eye on it now as the city’s project manager. Walker also grew up in Seneca and returned to the city after time in the Air Force, Smith said.

The goal is to get as much infrastructure work completed at one time as possible, with the city’s alleys torn up one block as a time. The city is also looking for a grant to pay for a new fire hall, Smith said.

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