Truax: Forest Grove responds to the coronavirus
It has been almost two months since Gov. Kate Brown first took action with regard to coronavirus. It was on Feb. 28 when she established the Response Team. In the 50 days since, we have changed the way we do things in Forest Grove as well as the rest of Oregon.
We are still following the guidelines that we practice social distancing, wear masks when out in public, and keep our public meetings to 10 or less people. When we do this, we are following the mandate that we Stay Safe, Save Lives.
The latest executive order (EO 20-16), issued by Gov. Brown on April 15, relates to local government and how we operate.
In Oregon, we are particularly proud of our transparency in public meetings. With few exceptions, such as labor negotiations and property transactions, the business of cities is conducted in sunlight. People are allowed, no, encouraged, to attend our City Council meetings and to offer testimony on the issues, first of all, during a period called citizen communication, where items not on the meeting agenda may be raised, and then during public hearings. During our virtual meetings, it has become difficult at best for such public participation. But Gov. Brown's Order still has the charge that city councils do what they can to assist in public observation of and participation in public meetings.
In Forest Grove, City Council meetings are regularly televised over channel 30 of Tualatin Valley Community Television, both live and in rebroadcasts. We are also providing real-time coverage over YouTube, and notification of such is duly published well in advance of any meetings. And while we may not have public comment portions in our meeting, the opportunity to supply written comments is encouraged.
An issue of import for the city of Forest Grove, and for other municipalities, is the formation of a budget for the upcoming year. And EO 20-16 deals with that. As with any other meeting, public input will be encouraged, including, but not limited to, emails, text messaging and old-fashioned snail mail. If a member of the public attends the budget meetings in person, that person must follow social distancing practices in the City Auditorium. The budget committee will meet virtually since there are 14 members on the committee (seven councilors/mayor and seven members of the public) which will allow opportunity for more public to attend in person and still be in compliance with the 10-person limit. And, because of the awkwardness of holding such meetings and ensuring public participation, in the event the budget is not formally adopted by June 30, 2020, the city will still be able to perform its basic duties into the new fiscal year, including meeting fiscal responsibilities, provided the city adopts its budget as soon as practicable to do so.
The city has also taken action with regard to helping people and businesses in Forest Grove. A $100,000 fund set up by the Urban Renewal Agency to offer grants to businesses within the URA boundary was oversubscribed. The URA's board of directors was elated that it could offer some small aid in concert with the CARES legislation passed by Congress. The City Council, along with Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González, meeting as the Community Enhancement Program Committee, took two special actions. First, it distributed some $25,000 in grants to help local non-profits meet COVID-19 responses.
Groups gaining funding included: Adelante Mujeres ($3,806); Bienestar ($1,935); FG Foundation-Winter Shelter ($8,534); Family Justice Center ($958); Virginia Garcia ($6,114), and; Forest Grove Elks (3,650). In addition, the committee also awarded a three-year grant at $40,000 per year to the Winter Shelter.
These funds are provided through Metro from a transfer station fee.
Relating to the national scene, we are most appreciative of congressional efforts to include funding for cities and counties to offset coronavirus expenses. The CARES Act did allow for direct funding for cities and counties with population of 500,000 or more. Other funding would come from the federal government through the state. Our concern was that meant only 30 cities in this country would qualify.
Some members of Congress are making an earnest effort to add funding to the next iteration of CARES to go directly to cities and counties. Stay tuned.
We will continue to work to provide the people of Forest Grove with the wherewithal and moral support to get through this and come out on the other side. What that will look like will be the topic of discussion and I invite your input as to where we go from here.
In closing, please, please, please remember those who are working so hard for all of us. Our first responders, our health care specialists, our retail associates, our distance learning teachers, and all the others who are making all of this bearable. And thank you for all your cooperation, your care and your compassion for one another.
Pete Truax is mayor of Forest Grove.
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