Gerson says city teamwork encourages her to continue

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home is moving forward, and Diane Gerson wants to continue to be part of that.

Gerson, 82, is one of seven candidates seeking four positions on the City Council in the Nov. 6 general election. Also running are Larry Angland, Greg Korn and Cortney Nash along with incumbents Susan Coleman, Bob Briana and Mayor Greg Mahler.

Ballots were mailed Friday, and ballots are due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 6 at drop sites, including City Hall and the Sweet Home Police Department.

Gerson is a retired public school administrator from California. She also was a kindergarten and reading teacher. She has lived in Sweet Home for 25 years.

She earned her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Whittier College and her doctorate in instruction and curriculum from Brigham Young University.

Gerson was elected to the City Council two years ago.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “Also, I think the city is moving forward, and I think it’s exciting to be a part of that – the new staff and the team that’s been built, their efforts to look at problems and come up with viable solutions, to communicate those problems and solutions to us and the public.

“I think the code enforcement officer is a good example.”

The city moved code enforcement from the Police Department to the Community and Economic Development Department early in the summer, increasing the position to full time from half time.

Gerson points also to the work in the city’s water distribution system and the upcoming Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements as well – “things that are being discovered and resolved.”

The city cannot grow economically without resolving its infrastructure issues, she said.

The council itself is part of it.

“This council, even though we’re all different, we see the same goals and we’re willing to give and take to meet those goals,” Gerson said. “We’re working together very well.”

“Getting the infrastructure complete” is among the her top priorities, Gerson said. That’s a big project, from closing leaks in the water distribution system to repairing and upgrading the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Going forward, she said, one of her goals “is to try to be aware of the unintended consequences of our decisions – what’s it going to look like 10 years down the pike, to try to anticipate as much as possible.”

For example, she is considering the possible consequences to requiring business licenses, something the council discussed recently.

Gerson doesn’t want to tax businesses through the license, she said, and ultimately, “we want to keep the downtown growing. We want to keep the intimacy of the small town.”

Third, Gerson said, she still wants to create some RV parking.

“I don’t have a solution to that one,” she said. “The RV traffic going through this town is immense, and they do not stop because there’s no place to park.”

She recalled traveling with her late husband, Gus Gerson, in an RV. They would look for a place to park, then they would walk, eat and enjoy wherever they were visiting.

“There’s no place to do that (here),” Gerson said. Highway parking is too narrow for RVs, she said, and she would like to find a way to solve that, with signs pointing to dedicated RV parking, especially for westbound traffic that last went through a town 90 miles to the east.

“They’re not going to turn off the Main Street unless they know it’s safe to do so,” she said.

Gerson said she is also concerned about utility costs and taxes.

In the past year, many Sweet Home residents have seen their trash, sewer and water bills and property taxes increase substantially. In addition to an annual increase to cover inflation, trash rates increased another 8 percent based on China’s decision to stop accepting recycling. Sewer rates increased to cover a shortfall in funding and an upcoming improvement project at the Wastewater Treatment Plant; and property tax bills are increasing rapidly – the mayor’s taxes, for example, increased by 15 percent from last year – as compression decreases.

Gerson noted that Sweet Home’s permanent rate is based on a 1940s tax base and wasn’t updated like most of the rest of Oregon in 1997 when state voters approved a property tax limitation.

“I understand the water situation,” Gerson said. “We were left with that mess, but we have to clean it up. If we don’t, DEQ is going to, and it’ll really cost us a lot of money.”

She recognizes the issues with recycling too and the Sweet Home residents who are dealing with these issues.

“I’m on a fixed income,” Gerson said, noting that rents are also going up as well.

So much of it, she said, is not under the city’s control, but “first of all, it’s the taxpayers’ money. The city is the people. It’s the people’s money. I try to look at it from that perspective. I want to be a good steward of the public’s money.”

In order for the city to solve problems, it takes money, she said, from leaky pipes to wastewater treatment.

When these issues are resolved, the city should give the taxpayers and ratepayers a break, Gerson said.