Thanks to a direct internet TV link Salem, Lincoln City and Newport, funded by Chinook Winds and the Siletz Tribes, coast residents and public officials were able to have an hour-long chat with state lawmakers Arnie Roblan and David Gomberg – Roblan State Senator, Gomberg State Representative.
Gomberg led off with some heartening news about Oregon’s economy which has produced 98 million more dollars for the state budget than originally planned. However, Gomberg noted that the state’s economy is improving largely in the Portland area and parts of the Willamette Valley – not the coast. He said the coast relies on other Oregonians and out-of-staters to feel confident that they can safely spend money on recreation before they’ll come to the coast. “And we’re lagging,” he said.
Gomberg said Oregon still has a ways to go to restore a full push on kindergarten to 12th grade education and to help properly fund our community colleges, among whom are in the best position to help un-or-under-employed Oregonians retrain for the 21st century global economy. Gomberg said Oregon is three weeks short of the average number of teaching days across the country. “We’ve got classrooms in Oregon where we’ve got 40 to 50 students in a classroom,” Gomberg said. “Not in Lincoln County, but elsewhere. But it means we’ve got fewer days to teach the same materials.”
Gomberg touched on senior citizen issues including the continued need for programs that allow them to stay in their own homes for as long as they physically or medically can. He said “It preserves their security, their dignity and comfort and allows them to continue to contribute to our society with their knowledge and wisdom.”
Gomberg pointed out a program to allow seniors to stay in their own homes and not pay their property taxes until they sell their home. He said although the program is working, it needs improving. Gomberg said seniors who qualify can have the state step in and pay their property taxes and be reimbursed when their homes are sold. But Gomberg quickly pointed out that the “state loans,” so to speak that are floated on the homes, come with compound interest, which racks up a huge amount against the sale of the home when it is finally sold. Gomberg said that it’s the only state loan program that comes with compound interest, which, in this case, leaves very little left, if anything, to the seller to help them continue on with their lives when they go into senior or other low cost housing or with their families. Gomberg said simple interest would not leave seniors so financially damaged toward the end of their lives. He said his bill to switch to simple interest is doing well during this special session of the legislature.
In the Newport audience, Lincoln County Economic Development Alliance Director Caroline Baughman said that the Central Coast needs more state help in preparing areas for quick industrialization and other job creating. Roblan agreed but also pointed to some successes including the recent announcement of a large parcel in Lincoln City that was prepared and sold to Goodwill out of Portland that is putting a huge store across from city hall that more resembles a fancy department store than what has been expected of such developments.
Gomberg chimed in that more jobs would be created in terms of businesses expanding if they got the same kinds of tax breaks that other businesses get – but recent legislation left small businesses out of the program. Gomberg said part-time help didn’t qualify for the program, but thousands of small businesses have only the resources for part-time help. He said he’s still fighting for proper consideration of the bill, which, so far, has gone nowhere.
Lincoln City planner Terry Novack asked Gomberg and Roblan to help people to get out of their air-polluting cars and give them an easier go at walking, biking, running, taking the bus, along with other options. He said funding should be made available for expanding such services if we are to make our communities more livable and safe. Roblan replied that he realizes that there is never enough money for such worthy goals but once in a while it all comes together as we saw in Tillamook County when an old railroad right of way was commandeered for a pathway for hikers, bikers and runners. Roblan predicted more revenue will be made available in the near future for such projects.
Roblan also pointed out that with the growth in sales of high mileage compact gasoline cars, as well as gas sipping hybrids, and a growing number of all electric cars, tax revenues for highway construction and maintenance are falling farther and farther behind. He said, “We’ve got to solve that problem with other options like taxing weight, or miles driven or something else to help capture those lost revenues which cannot be lost on our roads or they’ll soon be falling apart.”
Roblan also lamented the huge bill the state paid last summer for huge wildland fires. $100 million dollars went up in smoke fighting those blazes.
Central Lincoln Peoples Utility District Public Information Officer Chris Chandler raised an issue that troubles her employer – a bill pending in the legislature that would eliminate the consideration of price when it comes to architecture or engineering services for projects under $100,000. She said PUD’s don’t want to be told they can’t hire or buy something based on price within a narrow band of services. Chandler said “These are public funds that are being used. It is inconceivable that a state statute could prevent us from considering price until AFTER we have chosen an architect or engineering firm. What if we get two proposals which get the same scoring from us, yet, as an example, one proposed to charge us $40K and the other $65K. This bill would bar us from considering that very important difference. This also flies in the face of local control. We thought the special session was aimed primarily at state budget adjustments, not catering to special interests and fast-track bills. Why should architectural and engineering firms get special treatment?”
Update on the above: Rep. Gomberg reported to News Lincoln County that the bill the CLPUD complained about was pulled Thursday at the last minute, probably because they learned they didn’t have the votes to pass it.
Gomberg said he agreed with the PUD’s position and will ‘vote no’ on the matter. Roblan said he obviously hasn’t seen the bill yet in the Senate and that he would investigate the issue thoroughly before he votes one way or the other.
Both lawmakers agreed that the impasse with Washington State no longer supporting the replacement of the Portland to Vancouver Bridge, or CRC as it’s referred to, must be broken by March, or the project is DEAD dead.
Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel said he wanted the lawmakers to explain to him how a project as simple as a series of crosswalks over Highway 101 in Newport could swell the city’s cost-sharing with ODOT that went from $52,000 to over $220,000 and have very little choice in the matter. News Lincoln County reporter Dave Morgan chimed in saying that a similar situation is going on in Lincoln City with the city being told that their contribution to ODOT’s widening of Highway 101 from from SE 21st to 35th will run them a lot more money than originally planned. And that they have little or no say in it. Gomberg and Roblan were surprised to hear of such developments and promised to personally look into the claims.
Morgan also asked Gomberg and and Roblan how the state could better coordinate efforts to dole out various offshore wave and wind energy sites so that commercial and recreation fishers don’t find themselves fishing in one area offshore one day and barred from going there the next – all to accommodate wave and energy device makers whose products are not even yet tested, much less proven to work. He also pointed out that both produce electricity at very high rates that must be subsidized by the American taxpayer in order to sell power at affordable rates. Roblan said he understood the frustration but that “We’re early in this investigation in what’s even possible for wind and wave energy. We have to find out through experimentation that is highly coordinated and that takes direct input from those affected by such research and testing.” “It’s complicated,” he said but added that “Everyone should be at the table.” He said “We’re not sure where everything will end up.”
Representative Gomberg and and Senator Roblan said they greatly enjoyed the interaction with those in attendance and reminded everyone that there will be a wrap up TV-Town Hall at the end of the Special Session coming up very soon.
The program was made possible by generous funding of Chinook Winds Casino Resort and the Siletz Tribes Charity Program.