Newport: Funding utilities using new urban renewal district, VAC new lease on life, city parks as smoke free zones, and pumping up work force housing
Newport City Councilors Monday night really covered a lot of public issue real estate as you can see in the headline. So, let’s get into it.
When Newport’s aging water and sewer lines started failing all over town to varying degrees of seriousness, the first option examined was raising consumer sewer and water rates – and raising them big. But there was an immediate backlash among the elderly and disabled (and their families) saying 15% per year increases would price them right out of their homes. So that option went down in flames. The council explored getting federal and state grants to shoulder the load, but Public Works Director Tim Gross said there’s no “there” there. He said cities and counties across the country, in similar straits, are already asking for grants from a budget beleaguered federal government that doesn’t have the money anyway.
So that tossed it back into the community’s lap. And the only tool that might come close to meeting the cost of new sewer and water lines is creating another Urban Renewal District north of the Yaquina Bay Bridge.
Monday night that’s the direction the council took. They decided to form a committee to explore creating a new urban renewal district that would basically stretch along both sides of Highway 101 from the Yaquina Bay Bridge way to the north and east on Highway 20. There are several options of how far north it would go, up to and including the Agate Beach area as seen in the map. The proposed district is in blue, the red line denotes the city limits.
Urban renewal basically spreads the cost of sewer and water line renovation across a wider reach of the city so that residents in just the water/sewer challenged areas don’t shoulder the full cost. It also hits Newport City Hall, the school district, the power company, Pacific Communities Hospital, the Port of Newport and Oregon Coast Community College in that some of their budgets could be affected because the urban renewal district will siphon off some of the growth in tax revenues as property values rise within the district – revenues that will be paying off bonds to finance the sewer and waterline replacements.
The council established an urban renewal district study committee that will develop a plan to present to the city council no later than October. By then it will have been reviewed by consultants and financial experts and will have been examined by the city planning commission. The city council has the final say on whether the city actually goes ahead with the plan. Unless something glaringly terrible surfaces, they’re likely to move ahead with it. So this issue is “going into the oven” for at least the next half-year. But when it comes out it will have a profound effect on the city’s ability to replace sewer and water lines, without which the city would no longer be a functioning city. So the city’s back is pretty much up against the wall on how to finance it.
However, even with all that, the city is still projecting at least 5% annual increases in sewer and water rates for several years in a row to complement the revenues generated by the urban renewal district. Consequently, there is now a push by the council to develop a plan to help soften that 5% a year burden on lower income Newport utility customers. It’s not yet clear yet how that’s going to be accomplished. The council put it squarely in City Manager Spencer Nebel’s lap. Nebel said he’ll get to work on in right away.
Getting the VAC more financially self-supporting
Members of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, which operates the Visual Arts Center at Nye Beach, gave a hopeful report to the city council about how they’re going to try to reduce the burden on city taxpayers in order to keep the doors open down there at the turn-around at Nye Beach. Various members of the VAC “makeover” task force reported that their plan aims to reduce city subsidies substantially over the next five years. They claim they’ll do that by raising rental rates at the VAC, through stepped up use of the VAC, art sales, new public-private partnerships, donor giving and a wider outreach to the community for general public involvement. The city council gave OCCA Executive Director Catherine Rickbone a big thumbs-up. City Manager Spencer Nebel also pledged to closely monitor progress so the city council can stay up to date with the expected transformation of the VAC.
Should all Newport city parks become “smoke free?”
After months of wrangling with the issue, the Newport Parks and Recreation Commission, on an 8-2 vote, asked the city council to outlaw all smoking at all Newport parks. They asked that smoking of any and all materials, including marijuana, also be banned from sidewalks, parking lots and perimeters around all city parks. Parks and Recreation Department Director Jim Protiva said they will need new signage so the public will be well aware of the ban, but they hope that those who smoke will obey the new city rule if it’s ratified by the city council. There won’t be any “anti-smoker patrols’ launched. The council set April 6th to let the public weigh in on the idea of all city parks being smoke free zones. The public hearing will be during the regular city council meeting on April 6th.
Clarifying Newport’s cooperation to create an affordable home ownership program
And finally – County Commissioner Bill Hall was on hand as the last batter at the plate during the city council meeting, clarifying the city’s role in helping the Lincoln County Land Trust move ahead with a program to create opportunities for more lower middle income families to afford to buy their own home. Hall apologized for the confusion at the last council meeting over the exact financial contribution the city would make to the effort, in conjunction with Lincoln City and Lincoln County. The confusion arose over the land trust teaming up with another land trust operation in Portland that has been very successful at hooking up families with homes they can buy. Many of the homes are either rehabilitated older dwellings or news homes built on lands owned by cities and counties they obtained through tax foreclosures.
Hall said Portland’s “Proud Ground” group is a well respected non-profit that is interested in helping the Lincoln County Land Trust get moving locally on its own mission here in Lincoln County. Hall and the council agreed that Newport would commit up to (the magic words “up to”) $30,000 a year for three years to help the process along. Lincoln City and Lincoln County will also each chip in the same amount toward the effort.
Affordable housing has hit crisis levels in just about every corner of Oregon. Nearly every city and county in Oregon is facing quite a challenge, albeit some bigger than others.