Mayors' first virtual Westside Economic Alliance meeting highlights progress made during COVID-19
Washington County mayors held their first-ever virtual Zoom meeting Thursday morning, May 28, at the Westside Economic Alliance's breakfast forum, talking about what their respective cities have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting, which attracted 12 mayors and an estimated 200 viewers, was moderated by Pam Treece, executive director of the alliance.
Each mayor was given three minutes to tell the public what their cities were doing during an unprecedented time where businesses have been closed and major city events have been canceled.
Here is what some of the cities are doing, according to their mayors:
Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik
"The first thing we did is establish an economic stabilization fund where we put aside $250,000 and granted that money out to 54 companies here in Tualatin," Bubenik said. "Grants were anywhere from a few hundred dollars to up to $10,000."
He said plans in the coming months are to stabilize businesses at risk of disruption or closure during the pandemic and that there has been discussion with Washington County about creation of a Business Recovery Center.
In addition, Bubenik said Tualatin is looking at some short-term financing to provide additional grants or no/low-interest loans for firms that may need a little more help in the coming months.
Also, Bubenik said his city hopes to create some of joint-buying operation, possibly partnering with the county as well, to purchase personal protection equipment — facemasks, gloves and the like — for businesses that are in need of such items during the coronavirus.
At the same time, Bubenik said his city is moving forward for eventual construction in the Basalt Creek area after some areas have been annexed, noting that Community Partners for Affordable Housing has purchased a track of land in that area to construct the city's first affordable housing complex.
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway
Callaway said Hillsboro realized early on that it could be an early responder to the COVID-19 crisis or address the crisis later.
"You know, we opted to go in early to make as much of a difference as soon as possible for as many businesspeople as we could," said Callaway. As a result, the city started with a small business grant program totaling $1 million with 400 businesses receiving some of those funds. Like some other local cities, many of those businesses are owned by women or minorities.
Callaway said the city also partnered with Community Action, giving them $100,000 in rental assistance.
In addition, Callaway said $75,000 went to food and other social service assistance.
"All of those things Hillsboro has done were funded through our general fund and reserves," said Callaway, praising past mayors and city management who set the stage for that ability.
Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin
Dalin said while the city doesn't have resources that other larger cities have, they've done their best, continuing to issue building permits while several restaurants in his city have distributed food to the city's homeless population.
Dalin said he's asked everyone to treat each other with respect during these difficult times, noting he has a friend whose wife is a teacher and is struggling with an underlying medical condition.
"So, think about that when you're around people. Be cautious. Be courteous and understanding to those around you," he said.
Denny Doyle of Beaverton
Mayor Doyle said Beaverton is doing what many cities are doing to help both small and large businesses make it through the pandemic.
"Like most cities the way we serve cities has changed but our commitment to the community has not waivered an ounce," said Doyle. "Development and construction in our downtown core and beyond has taken shape with the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, the Hyatt House Hotel and a new public parking garage are all under construction."
He said completion is near for the city's new public safety center as well.
Doyle said Beaverton will soon unveil a summer events schedule that will include a virtual and interactive Beaverton Night Market, Beaverton Arts Mix and Flicks by the Fountain.
The mayor pointed out that while the world is moving along a little differently than normal, residents shouldn't lose faith in local leaders "because we care deeply about those who live and work here."
Doyle then mentioned that the city's charter change passed by voters earlier in May (which effectively takes powers away from the mayor and places them in the hands of a hired city manager) means he has "the great honor of being the last strong mayor in the state of Oregon."
King City Mayor Ken Gibson
Gibson said since King City has a large senior population, its No. 1 responsibility was to lock the city down in an effort to protect its older population when COVID-19 broke out.
"And we've successfully done that," said Gibson. "In a recent report from TVF&R, the calls for emergency responses have actually gone down and I think that's really evident that we have done everything we needed to do to ensure to keep our community safe."
He said people are respecting social distancing and wearing masks when necessary, noting that the community park has remained open during the ordeal. Being a small city, Gibson said they don't have the resources to help out the city's small businesses financially but have provided them with information on outside funding opportunities and other pertinent information during the coronavirus shutdown.
Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays
Mays said both the Sherwood City Council and city staff have been helping wherever they can "because the last three months have been incredibly difficult for so many people."
"I'm proud of the families and businesses of Sherwood in how they've responded," said Mays. "City staff have also been fantastic in adapting to this new way of operating and keeping positive attitudes while we continue to work." He said Sherwood is ready for Phase 1, which went into effect June 1. At the same time, he said Sherwood would open some city operations and will continue to open others in phases.
Tigard Mayor Jason Snider
Snider started off by saying he was happy the city passed a public safety levy passed that added eight new patrol officers to its streets.
Like many cities, Snider said Tigard has suspended shutting down water for residents who can't afford the regular bills and delaying any utility rate increases.
In addition, the city created the Tigard Commercial Assistance & Relief for Economic Stability program (or CARES), where the city funded $300,000, which leveraged up to $1 million from local financial institutions in an effort to help local businesses with a focus on supporting women-owned and minority businesses. More than half of the money there has gone to those businesses.
Snider poked fun at Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax after noticing he was drinking coffee out of a commemorative mug given out during Snider's first State of the City speech, but quickly added, "In all seriousness, the mayors work extremely well together," he said.
Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax
Truax started by answering a question he received as part of a Q and A session planned for the end of the meeting. The question was what keeps him up at night?
"What keeps me up is that we'd be leaving someone behind (during the pandemic)," he said. He quoted a Franklin D. Roosevelt speech regarding challenges that ensure everyone is taken care of, saying that progress is measured by "whether we provide for those (people) who have too little."
"And I think that's what keeps me working at this job and my colleagues working in theirs," said Truax.
In response to another question on what he was doing to create a more resilient community during the pandemic, Truax replied, "partnerships, partnerships, partnerships" with schools, chambers of commerce, faith communities and service organizations.
"When we talk, barriers go down. When barriers go down, we get a chance to find common accord," he said.
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