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Mayor Rick Scholl address concerns from 2021 and looks forward to challenges in the New Year.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF ST. HELENS - St. Helens Mayor Rick Scholl is sworn into office by Judge Amy Lindgren.With the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on, times have been challenging in St. Helens, but Mayor Rick Scholl is looking ahead to better days in 2022.

Speaking with the Spotlight, Scholl said a big concern in 2021 was the health of local businesses.

"I think the biggest challenge was for our small businesses, particularly bars and restaurants, just trying to get through this pandemic," Scholl said. "Luckily, we were able to, through the city and through the county, try to help those businesses out to the best of our ability."

Scholl continued, "It has been very difficult. With the rising costs of everything, and closures, I would not want to be a small business owner in the restaurant-retail business."

Scholl also said the pandemic has had an effect on mental health, considering masking and the need to socially distance.

"When you're used to seeing smiling faces, and you have a mask on, and you don't see smiley faces anymore, it makes an impact on people," he said. "It really, truly does."

Despite the pandemic and all the restrictions, Scholl is proud to say St. Helens made it through 2021 — and even comes away from the year that was with some shiny new features.

"We had a lot of projects that finished up last year," he said, noting the installation of a new all-abilities playground at McCormick Park. "The Makerspace (at St. Helens Public Library) was completed last year, which was huge. We were able to function fairly well via Zoom meetings."

Scholl noted, however, that the year ended with an uptick in car-related crimes.

"At the tail end of 2021, we had a bunch of crime activity," he said. "We were able to get a couple of those (suspected) criminals and prosecute them."

With 2021 safely in the history books, Scholl looks ahead to 2022.

"I'm optimistic that, yes, it will be a better year with COVID," Scholl said.

He added, "My biggest concern is the inflation that we're having. Every business and homeowner is trying to keep up with expenses. I'm optimistic, and I hope we can make it through it. It's very tough."

For St. Helens proper, Scholl points to plans for a new public safety building that would replace the aging and space-compromised police station, which was first built in 1971.

"The police station is long overdue," Scholl said. "We want to ensure public safety."

Scholl continued, "We just want to make sure we have a new place to attract quality officers, so it's very pivotal that we have a new police station for our community."

The St. Helens City Council recently signed off on a plan to pay for the public safety building project through a new fee included in every St. Helens water customer's utility bill.

Scholl also brought up the city's recreation program, noting that earlier last year, St. Helens acquired a former church to convert into a new recreation center. The building is located at 2625 Gable Road, a short walking distance from St. Helens High School. The purchase price for the building was $800,000.

The big-ticket item as we move through 2022 and beyond will be the St. Helens Riverwalk.

"It's a huge project," Scholl said. "It's a big chunk of property down there that the citizens have continued to watch and have input on. We've done a lot of outreach on it."

Scholl said, "It's something bigger than any of us. It's something that's going to be left behind for generations in the future. … We have one chance to do this right. I know there has been some criticism over the design, but for the most part, people are very happy with what is being designed down there. I'm very much looking forward to the project."

An open house was held Dec. 15 where citizens were able to see the latest renderings of the project.

Scholl looked at the potential of tourism this year.

"Tourism is a big part of our city, of course," he said. "It's been brought up a number of times at our meetings. Obviously, people are passionate about tourism, whichever side you're on."

The challenge is to get people who travel U.S. Highway 30 through St. Helens to discover Old Town, the riverfront area and the Columbia River itself.

"We want people to be all over this city," Scholl said. "It's a fortunate thing that we have a big, beautiful Columbia River here, with a nice little island, with four rivers feeding in, with a really good-feeling downtown area."

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