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City looks to advocate for direct COVID-19 dollars, access to vaccines, funding for projects

Gresham City Council has agreed upon a set of priorities to advocate for, as the 2021 Oregon State Legislature convenes and new leadership takes the helm in Washington, D.C.

Council voted on a series of legislative priorities during a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, with a focus on continued access to COVID-19 recovery dollars and vaccinations, increased housing availability, and ways to end systemic racism.

The decision on what staff will advocate for was not unanimous — Councilor Vincent Jones-Dixon was not present for the vote, Councilor Mario Palmero voted against the priorities, and Councilor Dina DiNucci abstained.

The pandemic took up much of the conversation. Last year, Gresham did not get direct access to the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund due to stipulations set by the federal government. Money went to state governments and any entity with more than 500,000 people. The city of Portland and Multnomah County received relief funds, while Gresham, which has had some of the highest incidents of COVID-19 cases, did not.

"Gresham has higher numbers in terms of COVID than other areas," Council President Eddy Morales said. "We need to see some harder advocacy for the delivery and funding of vaccines to our community."

That priority will most likely be echoed by other municipalities in East Multnomah County, as the need for support did not equal the funds received in 2020. Gresham staff will attempt to secure access to a portion of President Joe Biden's $350 billion earmarked for pandemic recovery.

Gresham is also seeking lottery dollars for two capital projects, both of which were put on hold last year, after Republican leaders walked out of the state Capitol in protest of the cap and trade bill and the COVID crisis. The city will ask for funding to back the construction of Gradin Sports Park and the Reynolds Health Center.

In Salem, 1,800 bills have already been introduced, with about 300 of interest to Gresham city leadership. Many of those touch on budget, police accountability, systemic racism, and policy responses to COVID-19 and the wildfires.

Gresham staff expect to receive funds from the Department of Justice to purchase Fire & Emergency Services apparatus, as well as money to continue 21st Century Police practices.

Other Gresham areas of advocacy include public safety, transportation and infrastructure, job-creation, housing affordability, funding for community amenities, sustainability and energy-related initiatives, local control over decision making, and community revitalization.

Mayor Travis Stovall pointed out that things will continue to be in flux as the year goes on, and that all of these priorities can be "revisited as we go along."

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