Oregon City hopes to keep hometown feel while acting 'more like big city'
Newly elected Oregon City mayor Rachel Lyles Smith called for the city to "hold onto our hometown feel" and to "act a little bit more like a big city" in taking charge on housing/homelessness issues.
In her first public forum the day after being sworn in as mayor, Lyles Smith on April 8 said new tourism programs supporting Oregon City restaurants — while promoting nearby historic sites — will help preserve the city's unique aspects as commissioners approve various options for denser residential development.
Endurance through painful periods — with optimism for better times ahead — was Lyles Smith's theme throughout the State of the Cities forum co-hosted by the North Clackamas and Oregon City chambers of commerce.
"Nobody is happy about the construction on Molalla Avenue," Lyles Smith said. "But we'll all be excited and happy about it when it's completed at the end of this year."
North Clackamas Chamber CEO Laura Edmonds said she also spoke for Oregon City business leaders in congratulating Lyles Smith on being elected mayor.
"We look forward to all the great things that you're going to do in your new capacity," Edmonds said.
Lyles Smith commended citizens and city staff for partnering to support vulnerable populations amid various natural disasters over the past year, starting with the pandemic, followed by September wildfires and the devastating February ice storm. Oregon City officials most recently set up special drop-off facilities that collected a total of 28,000 cubic yards in tree debris from residents cleaning their private properties and from public works employees clearing parks and streets.
"I feel really proud of how our city came together," Lyles Smith said.
Lyles Smith's update on Willamette Falls touched on Metro's continued negotiations with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde amid continued delays in launching a public riverwalk construction project. She pointed people to the tribe's website, grandronde.org, for information about the separate private development side of the project.
Lyles Smith joined mayors from Gladstone, Happy Valley and Milwaukie in criticizing ODOT's plan to toll Interstate 205's Abernethy Bridge to West Linn, which is expected to increase bottlenecks on city streets as drivers seek to avoid fees.
"It's true that we need funding," Lyles Smith said. "But we are heavily concerned about diversion … and tolling the Abernethy Bridge in and of itself is really concerning."
Oregon City will receive between $7.2 million and $7.6 million from the American Rescue Plan, but City Manager Tony Konkol said he's still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Treasury for how to spend the funding.
City officials' estimate of $5 million from the federal government for capital projects would be a "scratch in the surface" on the more than $40 million that Oregon City has in deferred utility projects, Lyles Smith said.
"There won't be enough money to cover the entirety of the projects that will be needed," Konkol said.
Monthly stormwater rates of $10.86 for a single-family residential property were proposed to increase to $12.54 effective July 1, and on July 1, 2022, the rate per equivalent residential unit would go up to $14.48. Effective July 1, 2023, the proposed new rate will be $16.73, and annually thereafter, the monthly rate would increase by 3%.
In response to concerns from fellow commissioners about eligibility for federal funds, Lyles Smith agreed with a unanimous April 7 vote of the commission to delay rate increases at least until May 19, when city staff is expected to return with more information.
"Stormwater struggles to be seen as an important utility," Public Works Director John Lewis said. "There's really no good time to consider rate increases, especially when it comes to struggling businesses."
Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. Monday, April 26, for citizens interested in being appointed to the commission seat vacated by the new mayor. Lyles Smith said she'll expect any applicants to show they're "paying attention" to commission meetings, and they'll have to hit the ground running on grappling with various complex issues the city faces.
"Clearly it's under a tight schedule," Lyles Smith said. "It's the best that we can do, giving the budget hearings and trying to fit everything in."
Options for applying to the open city commission seat are available at orcity.org or by calling 503-496-1505.
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