Councilors address speeders, LID qualms

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home City Council’s July 13 session at City Hall covered a lot of ground, from discussions of Main Street’s speeding problem to the cost of a local improvement district.

A highlight, however, was what Police Chief Jeff Lynn declared “historic”: a swearing-in ceremony for three officers following the July 12 retirement of Sgt. Jason Van Eck.(See related stories on pgs. 3, 11.)

“It’s a unique time. We’ve never done something like this, all three at once,” Lynn said. “We’re excited for where this is going to take our department and how we’re going to move forward. There will be a lot of challenges. Let’s be honest with that. We’re still short on people. But it’s a fantastic time.”

Former Sergeant Jason Ogden was recently promoted to the department’s new captain position. Dave Hickox, who’s been with the agency since 2012, was promoted from officer to sergeant. And 22-year-old Trevor Sundquist, of Hillsboro, was welcomed into the department, where he’ll begin his law-enforcement career.

Ogden has served for nearly 24 years in two different stints: the detectives division and as a field training officer.

“He comes out of California. We’ve never held that against him,” Lynn said in jest, adding, “He’s been a vital member of our department, and he’s been one of my go-to individuals that helps us tackle whatever issues we may face. He brings a wealth of knowledge in different disciplines.”

Hickox worked for the military police for six years before coming to Sweet Home. He’s the department’s lead firearms instructor, a less-lethal instructor and a member of the regional SWAT team.

“He’s not as big as Van Eck, but I think he can fill those shoes,” Lynn joked. “I’m sure he can.”

Sundquist graduated from the University of Montana as a welding and fabrication technologies major before returning to Oregon and working as a security officer for Providence Portland Medical Center. He has connections to Sweet Home, with a number of family and friends in the area. Growing up, he often visited the city for family vacations and volunteered at the Oregon Jamboree.

“I think Sundquist is going to do an amazing job for us and fit in very well with his personality and skill set that he’s going to bring,” Lynn said. “It’s a historic day, and I’m excited and giddy for what we can do in the future.”

‘A Race Track Downtown’

“There’s been too many accidents on Main Street, especially in the last couple of years,” Mayor Greg Mahler said in his mayor’s report. “Particularly around 22nd Avenue. It’s getting a little concerning, because we’ve had three within the last month that I’m aware of, and some are very critical.”

“The speed that’s going on on Main Street is concerning,” he continued. “I know Chief Lynn is working to the best of his ability to try to curb some of the speeding, but we still have a race track going on downtown.”

He noted the city’s past attempts to work on the issue with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“We’ve had a lot of efforts with ODOT over the years to try to get something accomplished in our community,” Mahler said, “not only on 22nd (Avenue), but on Pleasant Valley (Road), and throughout our community.”

He suggested the necessity of even more correspondence with ODOT.

“I think we need to reach out, have a conversation with our ODOT heads, have them come to our community, and have a sit-down meeting with them,” he said. “We need to have a once-and-for-all powwow about their responsibility to protect our citizens and our community. No more of this ignoring our community like I feel they have. It’s time to step up and get some things accomplished.”

Councilor Dave Trask expressed astonishment at Main Street speeders.

“The speed limit sign by Subway, they’re not paying attention to that,” he said. “We could have one every block, it seems like, and they still don’t slow down. They just don’t. It amazes me. They might slow down at first, but then when they get past that they seem to go right back up. It just blows my mind that we can’t follow those rules. It drives me nuts.”

Lynn reported that the radar-sign data his department has collected is “not good.”

“‘Disappointing’ is an easy word to say,” he said. “Probably 40% of the drivers along Main Street are driving 5 mph or more over the speed limit. That pretty much runs from 10th Avenue to 44th Avenue. That’s a staggering number.”

“Just enforcement isn’t going to control it, I don’t believe,” he continued. “I think there has to be some traffic calming done somehow on Main Street, in the downtown corridor as well as out in front of City Hall. It’s really not one answer that’s going to solve all of our problems. It’s a series of things. No matter how many tickets we give out, I think there are still going to be other issues that we need to look at addressing.”

“It’s like a freeway out there,” Councilor Angelita Sanchez said. “People are just headed from I-5 to get to Bend or something through the pass. So I don’t know what type of solutions we can come up with.”

Development Director Blair Larsen also described Highway 20 as “like a freeway” because “it’s a nice, wide, comfortable road. And when you have a road like that, you lay down on the gas and go fast. That’s just the design of that road. It’s been designed to be fast.”

“The way you slow it down,” he said, mentioning possible remedies, “is either by putting speed bumps all over the place, or making the corridor feel narrower, so that the driver is less comfortable going as fast.”

He warned the council that possible solutions may not find favor with everyone.

“Just be prepared that some of the recommendations that are going to come before you may not be popular among the people or council,” he said, “but [they] would be methods that actually have data behind them for slowing people down.”

Willow/Yucca Street LID

The council voted 4-2 to move to a third and final reading of an ordinance that would create a local improvement district in the Willow and Yucca streets neighborhood. The LID would extend its city water infrastructure and service, and construct sidewalk and street improvements.

While some residents have come forward in support of the project, others have expressed opposition to its cost.

“I’m going to vote no on this for the same reasons I did before,” Councilor Dylan Richards said. “The cost the homeowners are having to pay is just outrageous, and I feel like the city should have to take more of that cost, and that’s why I’m against it.”

Currently, the project is estimated at $1.7 million, though that number is not yet official.

“We’re saying the $1.7 million is our best estimate of what the whole thing will cost, and this is our formula for how it will be divided up among the people,” Larsen said of the current ordinance.

The city still has to bid on the project and find a price enough parties find suitable.

“We can’t promise people that this is going to be the exact cost, because costs change,” he said. “Costs go up and down and so forth. Hopefully we get some really great bids, and our estimates are overly conservative, and we save some money.”

Richards was less than certain that the city would find the bids favorable.

“I’m a little concerned about the bids,” he said. “At the last council meeting, we talked about Juniper Street, and that bid came way over the estimation. I’m worried that this bid will be the same.”

“That’s the nature of public works projects,” Larsen replied. “We must go out to bid for these projects, and we can’t control what people will actually bid on them. When we put out an RFP (request for proposal) and get the actual bids and so forth, there will be an opportunity for the council to examine that and say ‘No, we have to pull out,’ if they so choose.”

Councilor Sanchez noted that the initial petition for the Willow Street Neighborhood LID, dated Jan. 6 and Dec. 7, 2019, had only 11 of the community’s 28 landowners as petitioners.

“It seems to me like the minority is trying to still push for this, not the majority,” she said. “So if the cost did overrun and it did cost a lot more, I don’t think that that is fair, whatsoever.”

Councilor Susan Coleman explained her stance, saying, “I’ve been on the fence about it a bit. But after hearing about someone in a wheelchair trying to cross that street, and also knowing that they don’t have water, and understanding that there are 11 petitioners who have agreed to this — two homeowners have not liked it, but nobody else has shown up. There’s something about the silent majority, and when people dislike something they will let themselves be heard.”

She continued, “And the fact that we haven’t heard from the rest of them — I’m not saying that they’re going to like it — but at the same time, I think that at the end of the day the improvements to their property are going to be very valuable, not just to their property, but to their life, as far as driving in and out of their driveway, their children playing and walking on streets – those things that will benefit just living.”

“I don’t like the idea of putting this burden on them, but I also understand that the development of a property is the property owner’s responsibility,” she concluded. “When you purchase a property, you pay for street development, water, sewer, hookups, all of that within the value of the home. So I’m still not saying ‘yea,’ but saying I think we need to move forward with this for that development area.”

Councilor Diane Gerson weighed in: “I’ve been very iffy about this, and I’m still on the cusp of this thing, because 29 pieces of property are owned by a corporation,” she said. “And from my perspective, that person has the ability to take all these costs off of their taxes, while the homeowners are going to be liable for those costs forever.”

That corporation is local firm Northern Investments, whose co-owner, Josh Victor, owns 29 of the neighborhood’s properties and is a pivotal backer of the project.

City Manager Ray Towry spoke of the uniqueness of the proposed LID.

“We might not ever again have the opportunity to have an individual corporation contribute in the manner which is currently being offered to you,” he said. “The main property owner is basically giving up $300,000 to help other people in the community. You may not get that opportunity again.”

Auditing Contract

The council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Salem-based auditing firm Grove, Mueller & Swank, PC, for a base amount not to exceed $40,000 for audit services for the 2020-2021 fiscal year as required by state law, with the caveat that city staff make a request for proposal next year to see if another firm would offer a different price for their services.

The city has contracted with Grove, Mueller & Swank for auditing services since 2001, the same year a request for proposal was last submitted.

“I know they do a great job for our city. We’ve used them for a lot of years,” Mahler said of the firm. “But it seems like they keep going up in price each time. So moving into the future we may want to check with other firms to see where they stand in price.”

Finance Director Brandon Neish noted that he thought annual price escalations were “fairly typical for most auditing firms.”

“My concern is that we get complacent with one organization,” Mahler replied. “And we get our blinders on and don’t realize that they may get overpriced.”

Richards agreed.

“I think it would be better next time to get more than one possible bid,” he said. “It’s kind-of like car insurance. You go to all of them.”