Mayor: City going in right direction

Sean C. Morgan

Although it may not be as fast as he would like, Mayor Greg Mahler believes the city is making progress in the right direction.

The City Council re-elected Mahler as mayor during its regular meeting on Jan. 8. Mahler and Councilor James Goble nominated themselves for the position, and the council voted unanimously to elect Mahler.

Nominations went to councilors Dave Trask and Diane Gerson for president pro tem, who serves as mayor when the mayor is unavailable. The council voted 4-3 to appoint Gerson. Trask was the incumbent president pro tem.

Voting for Trask were Courtney Nash, Mahler and Trask. Voting for Gerson were Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley, Goble and Gerson.

City Manager Ray Towry swore in councilors elected in November, including incumbents, Coleman, Mahler and Gerson and Nash, who is serving his first term on the council. Nash succeeds Bob Briana.

The officers will hold their positions for the next two years, following the next election cycle. The mayor is elected by the councilors and serves as chairman during meetings, signs documents and represents the city as mayor.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Mahler told The New Era. “We’ve made a lot of positive changes. You can see it in the parks, in Public Works – (in) a lot of areas that have fallen through the cracks.”

He pointed to improvements at Sankey and Ashbrook parks and noted that Public Works has implemented a lot of programs, like the successful leaf pickup program in October.

The city is getting the ball rolling with the upcoming rehabilitation and expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, a project that is going to take a couple of years, Mahler said. The city is also fixing water leaks.

In the past couple of years, the city has settled a contract with the police union, and it’s about to begin bargaining again, Mahler said.

“Police officers and dispatchers are very important to me,” and he wants to find ways to keep them funded.

New city management is now in place, Mahler said, and the city manager has people around him who are doing an “excellent” job.

“All across the board, the city’s just doing a phenomenal job,” Mahler said.

Economic development remains Mahler’s top priority, he said. “I think we’re starting to have people turn their heads and look at our community a lot closer.”

Sweet Home has a low cost of living, he said, and it’s a great place to live.

“It’s a start in the right direction,” he said. The city is starting to get inquiries from businesses about Sweet Home.

The city needs to start overlaying streets, Mahler said. In the past, street projects have tended to be “piecemeal,” but in the long run it’s less expensive to fix the whole street.

Towry and Springman have been looking at ideas, such as grant funding, to move forward with street repairs, Mahler said. There has been discussion of a gas tax, but it doesn’t have support.

He said city officials and councilors will soon take a look at property tax rates, which are the highest in the county. Many Sweet Home property owners saw increases of more than 10 percent in October when tax bills went out. The property tax on Mahler’s own home, for example, increased by nearly 15 percent, he said.

“That is on our agenda to be discussed this year,” Mahler said. The council will meet in an extended work session to discuss goals, and that will be among the topics. “We just haven’t gotten to it yet. We haven’t lost sight of it.”

Park improvements remain at the top of the council’s list too, Mahler said.

“Our goal is to get our parks to be something we can be proud of.”

Mahler said he also is going to continue pushing for better health services.

“We need health services in our community, and we’re falling short of our needs,” he said. At the least, he wants to see a modern urgent care facility.

“Our ambulances are being called for the most minor of things,” Mahler said. A facility would help the Fire and Ambulance District if it did not have to run back and forth to Lebanon as often as it does.

Sweet Home has a lot going on on many fronts, Mahler said. The School District is making a lot of progress, for example, and it all plays into improving the community.

“It’s not as fast as I’d like to see it, but we’re going in a good direction,” Mahler said. “I think we’ve got a good council, and I think we’re all on the same page – in the same direction.”

In other business, the council:

– Approved a resolution to close 14th Avenue between Kalmia and Elm streets during the Sweetheart Run on Feb. 9.

– Continued a hearing to Jan. 22 of an appeal of a variance approved by the Planning Commission last year to allow the construction of a 1,728-square-foot shop building at 203 5th Ave. Without a variance, the maximum size of an accessory structure is 864 square feet.

The continuance is to allow for additional notification of the public hearing.

– Entered into an agreement to provide work space for Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments staff members when they work in Sweet Home.

– Updated financial policies, including the threshold for tracking and depreciating long-term capital assets from $200 to $5,000 in keeping with state law.