City officials highlight plans, spending proposals for 2021-22 budget

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home Budget Committee and a number of city department heads met on May 6 at City Hall in the committee’s second meeting of the process that will produce a budget proposal for the City Council’s approval.

Council and other Budget Committee members heard reports from three department heads: Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen, Finance Director Brandon Neish, and Public Works Director Greg Springman.

Community and Economic Development Department

The Community and Economic Development Department has $1,180,440 in proposed expenditures for fiscal year 2022, which is up $24,522 from what was budgeted for the department this fiscal year.

Giving details about his department, Larsen informed listeners that there are four full-time employees under him. The department also hires temporary help for planning and building inspection purposes from Northwest Code Professionals and Cascades West Council of Governments on an as needed basis.

In terms of economic development, he said that 11 entrepreneurs have been assisted so far in the current fiscal year through his department’s relationship with the entrepreneurial assistance program Oregon RAIN — Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network.

He also noted the council’s recent decisions to increase system development charges (SDCs) as an important step for the community.

“We recently finished updating our SDCs,” he said. “That was a significant project and we appreciate the council’s cooperation with that.”

The updated SDCs went into effect on May 1.

Larsen said that improvements at Sankey Park are nearly complete.

“We just have some more paths that need to be paved and some additional lighting that will be installed, and some work that public works is finishing up,” Larsen said.

With the lower area of the park nearing completion, he said that planning efforts have begun to improve upper Sankey Park as well.

“The BMX track is there now, but there’s a lot of potential for additional improvements to bring that in line with the rest of Sankey Park,” he said.

City staff, in addition to the Park and Tree Committee, have started to collect public feedback on what the public would like to see in upper Sankey.

The department is also working with the planning commission to update the city’s development code.

“This has been a long-term goal and a long-term project,” Larsen said.

The Panning Commission has recently doubled the number of meetings that they’re holding in order to read through the current development code and make updates. They formerly met once a month, but are now meeting twice.

Larsen said another of his department’s goals is to implement a business vitalization program in Sweet Home. He said his department is working with the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce to create a “business guide” and a “voluntary business registration.”

He said his department would like to create a clearer business information web portal, something like business.sweethomeor.gov.

“It would be a place where people could go to get all the information they need on either starting a business or getting the resources that their business needs in Sweet Home,” he said.

“We want it to be adapted to the needs of our people,” he added.

He also said that vacant buildings enforcement is under way, after the council recently passed a new ordinance targeting vacant buildings.

“We’re beginning to get some compliance with that,” he noted.

Larsen said plans to improve Quarry Park are in the works. That is the name city staff have given to a city-owned property that is the former Knife River quarry and what Larsen calls “the future home of the Jamboree.”

“That’s a very long-term project. There’s a long-term vision for it,” he stated. “Things are starting to coalesce with actually making progress, but it’s still going to be a long, hard slog getting that to what we want it to be.”

Finance Department

The Finance Department has proposed expenditures of $865,552 for the 2022 fiscal year, which is $27,143 more than what was budgeted for the current fiscal year.

The department has seven employees including Finance Director Brandon Neish, and two part-time court clerk positions.

In the 2021 fiscal year, Neish said his department is looking to expand the city’s investment portfolio.

“We are in the beginning of diversifying our pool of investments to ensure stability and try to maximize what we get, as far as interest earnings,” he said.

But he said that interest rates are “abysmal right now.”

The city currently receives .6% for each dollar in the local government investment pool, which Neish describes as the state’s bank account for government organizations.

Just before COVID, the city was receiving around 2.75% for each dollar.

“It fell in a hurry,” Neish said.

With the low interest rates, Neish said his department is looking outside of government options “to try to maximize what we have and what we can return to this community.”

Neish said the department recently leveraged $1.2 million in savings through 2036 for the city through a bond refunding.

Additionally, he said the department is currently reviewing options for banking services in order to limit the amount of credit card charges it has.

And Neish said his department is “feverishly working on obtaining funding for the wastewater treatment plant as that project gets closer and closer to fruition and construction slated to begin sometime in the next calendar year.”

Public Works Department

The wastewater treatment plant was also a heavy topic of conversation for Springman.

As of July 1, the city will be taking over operations of the wastewater and water treatment plants, work that was previously contracted out.

“We have worked hard to fly those positions these last few months. And as of this week we have all of those positions filled,” Springman said.

Three individuals who have already worked in Sweet Home’s Public Works Department will be moving over to work in the wastewater and water treatment plants, and two workers have been hired from outside the organization.

Springman said his department hired someone to fill a vacancy in the water distribution system as well.

The Public Works Department has a proposed budget of $12,792,820 for the 2022 fiscal year, down significantly from the $19,123,573 that was budgeted for the current fiscal year.

For the 2022 fiscal year proposed budget, Springman is asking for $200,000 to continue working on replacing small-diameter water mains throughout town.

“We have about five miles of piping that needs to be replaced,” Springman said.

Springman also said the department wants to develop a water master plan, and he’s requesting $75,000 a year over the next two years for that.

“The master plan will really help us decide what pipe is going to go where, when, and how,” he said. “That master plan is extremely important before we start just putting all kinds of pipe in the ground. We know we have a need to fix our pipes, but we need to be strategic about how we do that.”

He said the city’s master plan will also help the department determine whether the reservoir that was leaking when Springman arrived in Sweet Home should be rehabbed, or if another reservoir should be put somewhere.

Springman said eight to 10 meters a month are dying in Sweet Home.

“When those die, we lose revenue,” he said. “When they get old, they become inaccurate.”

He said that there are meters in the market now that last longer than the ones Sweet Home is using. And the technology in the modern-day meters is more advanced.

“They read extremely low flows on homes,” Springman said. “If a house has a leak, where our current meters might not pick up that low flow, the new meters can.”

The budget includes $650,000 proposed to be put toward the water meter modernization project in the 2022 fiscal year.

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