Ex-mayor: City should allocate federal funds to businesses

Benny Westcott

Former Mayor Dave Holley suggested to the City Council at its April 28 meeting that the city should allocate part of the $2.03 million Sweet Home is scheduled to receive from the federal government to local businesses that have suffered.

He spoke to Councilors Angelita Sanchez, Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Greg Mahler, Diane Gerson, Dave Trask and Dylan Richards, who were all present at the meeting.

After reading The New Era’s report on the April 13 council meeting, Holley said, “I was surprised and a little disappointed that no one talked about the help to businesses that should be given under this act.”

“We do know that our businesses have been greatly impacted by the coronavirus. And it’s not over yet.”

Holley said the city has “a very unique chance to make good on some of the lip service that we’ve given over the years.”

“We have long taken the position in this council and other councils that we need to do all we can to help the businesses that we have, and to recruit new business to the city.”

He asked the council to give $10,000 each to the 21 Sweet Home businesses that did not fall into the “essential” category and thus have had to close partially or completely at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holley said his list of the 21 businesses that he thinks should receive the funding is “not perfect,” noting that a few others may also fit the category.

He said that his plan is “not a cure all, but it’s something that I think needs to be done.”

He said Sweet Home has already lost “several” businesses, citing the Skyline Inn as an example.

He noted that his plan would still leave a lot of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act left over for the city to use in other ways, saying that “this request for this money would amount to about 11% or 12% of the total that is coming into the city.”

As a disclosure to the council, Holley emphasized that he is not a member of the Chamber of Commerce and has “no financial interest in any of these businesses.”

Trask said he had initially misunderstood where the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act could go after it was presented to the council by Finance Director Brandon Neish at the April 13 meeting.

“I was under the understanding at the time that it was all for infrastructure,” he said, adding that Holley informed him in a conversation prior to the April 27 meeting that the money is also allowed to be spent in other realms.

After hearing Holley speak to the council April 28, Trask said that business owners have been “hurt” during the pandemic. “In my opinion, I think that this would be something that the city should do.”

Mahler said “Mr. Holley, I applaud your proposal. I very much do. And I am in full support of it. I, like Councilor Trask, was under the impression that the funding was for infrastructure, and I wasn’t thinking outside the box about other things too.”

“I think there’s a lot of small businesses that need our help right now,” Mahler said. “The last thing I want to see is other small businesses in Sweet Home closing up.”

Holley then said of small businesses in Sweet Home, “whether we use their services or not, they’re important to our community. And it’s important that we keep everything that we can here.”

Gourley said, “before we move to a situation like this, we need to know what is in the rescue plan for our businesses.

“It’s my understanding that they are going to have businesses show their 2019 income tax returns and compare them to 2020, and they may be made whole for that difference,” she said.

“So before we change the course of what our decisions are with the information we’re given, we need to make sure we know what’s available to the businesses from the federal government.”

Gourley said “We have a tenet to do the most good for the most people for the longest period of time, and infrastructure money doesn’t come to us very often, to be able to offset the needs for the community as a whole. So we need more information before we make any kind of decision on this subject.”

Sanchez said she agreed with Gourley.

“As a small business owner I have applied for small business administration loans that are very low interest and have a very long time to repay. I’ve also applied for PPP loans that are forgiven, and there is a lot of resources out there for businesses to apply for.”

“So before we move forward with spending this money, I would like to make sure that those people were not eligible for those type of things.”

“We have to use this money for the greater good for the longest possible time, because our kids and our grandkids will have to repay this money back.”

No decision was made at the meeting on the issue. Mahler said that when the money does come, council should discuss how best to use the funding.

Oregon Jamboree

Resident Mary Jane Hildreth addressed a letter to City Council and the city manager expressing concerns about plans to have a scaled-down Oregon Jamboree this summer.

Hildreth said in the letter: “The director intends to bring thousands of out-of-towners to Sweet Home whose COVID status is entirely unknown. These visitors may be unwilling to wear masks or practice social distancing, especially in a mega party atmosphere. Those of us who walk to Safeway for our groceries know how difficult it is to keep distance when there’s a crowd on Sweet Home’s Highway 20 sidewalks.

“Such a plan ignores the welfare of Sweet Home residents, particularly the most vulnerable (the elderly and those with preexisting conditions), and particularly when the event is held in a residential neighborhood (Sankey Family Park).

“Furthermore, with new variants of the COVID virus appearing on a regular basis, no one knows how effective current vaccines and protocols will be this August.

“In conclusion, losing the life of one vulnerable Sweet Home resident is not worth whatever the amount of money the Oregon Jamboree may bring in. Please protect the citizens and taxpayers of Sweet Home by not having the Jamboree this year.”

City Manager Ray Towry said the city is working with Jamboree staff to try to put the event on, within state guidelines.

“Essentially, what we’re trying to do is work with the Jamboree to put on an event that meets the mandates that we don’t know are going to be in place four months from now,” Towry said.

“We’re hoping that there’s an event,” he added.

Gourley said that she was listening to the news and she “heard an announcement that the CDC is now recommending that people can be in outdoor spaces without masks, if they’ve been vaccinated.

“And I found that very encouraging, even with our numbers going back up,” she said.

Trask said, “My concern would be, are people that are drinking going to follow these things (precautionary restrictions)? I don’t know. That would be a question that I’d like to have answered, which you probably can’t answer because you can’t control that necessarily.”

Mahler said “I had a 15 minute talk with someone from Portland, and it was not a positive conversation. It was a ‘How dare we have the Jamboree’ conversation.”

May Mental Health Month

Mahler proclaimed May 2021 as Mental Health Month in Sweet Home.

He said, “as the mayor, I call upon the citizens, governmental agencies, public and private institutions, businesses and schools in Sweet Home to recommit our community to increasing awareness and understanding of mental health, the steps our citizens can take to protect their mental health, and the need for appropriate and accessible services for all people with mental health conditions.”

He said that “The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on the mental health of people of all ages and now more than ever it is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles that commonly prevents individuals from seeking help. By limiting media consumption, staying connected with loved ones, and staying active, we can maintain our mental health as we try to protect our physical health.”

Other Council Action

In other action, the council:

– Voted unanimously to authorize the posting of a Request for Proposals to solicit an Integrator of Record for the city’s water and sewer systems.

The city does not currently have an integrator of record. Instrument integration has been individually procured on a project-by-project basis. This has contributed to many operational issues in the water treatment plant and the distribution system which results in a great deal of staff time being spent on tasks that should be automated, according to a request for council action (RCA) submitted by engineering technician Trish Rice and Public Works Director Greg Springman.

The RCA said “the level of technology requires programming and other specialized knowledge, therefore the city desires to evaluate the consultant market to provide holistic integration services.”

The RCA continued “With the upcoming in-house treatment plant operations and the wastewater treatment plant upgrades project, this is a crucial time to bring on an integrator of record to resolve current issues and reduce future issues.”

– Unanimously approved a motion to allow staff to execute the 2021 Overlay Program Project contract as presented to the council.

At its March 23 meeting, the City Council authorized posting a solicitation for the 2021 street overlay project. The engineer’s estimate was $264,138.50. Staff issued one addendum in response to contractor questions. The bids closed April 20 and the city received 4 bids. North Santiam Paving Co. is the lowest bidder at $194,174. According to the RCA titled 2021 Overlay Project Contract Approval, “staff is very pleased that the bids are so much lower than expected because no schedule trimming will be necessary.”

– Unanimously approved staff’s request for authorization to solicit bids for the 2021 Overlay Project Phase 2.

On March 23, council approved the concept of doing this season’s street overlays in two phases. Phase 2 is ready to bid, according to an RCA submitted by Rice and Springman. The engineer’s estimate is $362,844. Work will begin after July 1, 2021.

– Voted unanimously to approve the Transportation Program Operation Agreement between the City of Sweet Home and Senior Citizens of Sweet Home.

The City of Sweet Home has acted as a pass through for grant funding to the Sweet Home Senior Center. In order to receive funds, the city enters into a State of Ore-gon Rural and Small Urban Area Transit Assistance Program. The Transportation Operation Agreement specifics the terms and conditions for the receipt by the Senior Center of Transportation Program from the city.

Police Department Report

The Sweet Home Police Department made comparisons in the number of a variety of different categories of calls to police between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

The study found a 19.05% increase in domestic violence/dispute calls from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, as well as a 43.02% increase in child abuse (physical/sexual) calls, a 138.46% increase in suicidal calls, and a 287.10% jump in mental health calls (see accompanying story on page 14).

The only decrease in calls from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 was in burg-lary related calls, which decreased 37.50%.

“Several of these calls raise significant concerns for our community,” wrote Police Chief Jeff Lynn in the report.

Officer Ean Mason has completed the DPSST Police Academy. Upon his graduation, Officer Mason received the Outstanding Health and Fitness Award for his Basic Police Class BP405. This award is presented to the individual who excels in the area of physical fitness.

If I Were Mayor Contest

Madeline Coleman won the 2021 elementary school “If I Were Mayor” contest, open to grades 4-5, with her poster showing what she would do if she were mayor. She was recognized by Mahler during the meeting and had her picture taken in the mayor’s seat.