Letter: St. Helens' decline has gone too far
I was having a conversation with a fellow the other day about the difference in the development of Scappoose and the non-development of St. Helens.
This man grew up in St. Helens and graduated from the local schools. He is now a businessman in Scappoose and
he and his wife live in that area.
Our conversation included disappointment in the downfall of St. Helens — the closure of so many businesses. How many of you remember Kiblan's clothing store, the Style Shop, the Lemon Racque, Mode O'Day, Heinie's Bakery, JCPenney? The list could go on and on. And there are no replacements for these businesses. Most have been boarded up, torn down or filled with resale products.
Don't get me wrong: There are a couple of really nice resale stores in St. Helens in which I love to browse and I have found treasures.
Unfortunately, there are over 30 closed businesses and, try as they might, these couple of businesses cannot cover the retail losses.
This fellow and I also discussed the ongoing development and good government leadership in Scappoose — the industrial development, the new parks and well planned celebrations, the streets lined with mown grass and well kept trees.
The St. Helens City Council has had to deal with enormous disasters created by past civic leaders, resulting in almost insurmountable problems. I realize that much of the industrial wealth in St. Helens has left, nearly decimating our economy. I realize that Measure 5 — passed when Boise Cascade Paper Mill, Armstrong, etc., were still running in St. Helens — has left a disparity between St. Helens and Scappoose's ability to raise taxes at the same percentage rate each year.
At the time of Measure 5, because of fiscal need, Scappoose was granted a higher percentage rate than St. Helens, thus being able to continue to collect a higher tax over the years. New business is happening in Scappoose because of new development.
I also realize that St. Helens is so short of money not only because of Measure 5, but also because of the huge environmental issues with which we must deal.
Before I begin this next segment, I want to reiterate that I love St. Helens. The location of the downtown area along the Columbia River is breathtakingly beautiful. My husband and I have lived in our home for over 44 years. And, no, we don't want to move to Scappoose.
However, this river view is hidden behind chainlink fences which can be totally blocked off from the public for inept celebrations and which, not too long ago, were topped by barbed wire. The land at the Old Mill property has been under "feasibility studies" for over five years now.
The promise of walking paths, trees and grass has been put behind the need to "cover up" the toxic lagoon on this property with solidified waste from the Portland Harbor Superfund — hazardous waste for which St Helens might receive nearly $50 million.
If this project can be safely and cleanly accomplished, and last "forever," why doesn't Portland keep it?
We have one council member who bought property in Salem well over a year ago and moved there with his wife. Councilor Keith Locke continues to serve on the local council, even after giving two dates for his resignation, and he supposedly lives on property he still owns in St. Helens for just enough time each month to continue this disservice to St. Helens. Give me a break!
We have another councilperson, Steve Topaz, who is suing or intends to sue the city of St. Helens because his basement has flooded and he claims shoddy work done by city crews is the cause. Topaz lives in the old St. Helens Sentinel Mist newspaper building. In high school in the late 1950s, I worked in that building part time as a proofreader. Some of the typesetters were in the basement, and there was always flooding going on.
If problems cannot be worked out among the members of the St. Helens City Council, how do they intend to work out problems for St. Helens? Their ventures into creating jobs for St. Helens citizens involves a grow plant for marijuana, Spirit of Halloweentown, and setting up plastic tents on a fenced off piece of citizen-owned property and holding a Fairy Festival, complete with a metal tree, Styrofoam Stonehenge and charging $12 to get in.
The city of St. Helens is paying out $10,000 per month to an events director. Positions held by City Council members and the mayor are supposedly volunteer, elected positions — and yet they are being paid a total of nearly $70,000 collectively per year as stipends for their service as elected volunteers.
The Oxford University Press depicts stipend as "a fixed regular sum paid as a salary or as expenses to a clergyman, teacher or public official."
It befuddles me, since council members must live within the city limits, how it could possibly cost any member nearly $1,000 per month to get to a council meeting. One can get to the council offices from anywhere in the city within 10 minutes.
I do not claim to know the answers to these problems in St. Helens.
Regrettably, it appears, neither does the current city administration.
This has gone on far too long. We need to replace the entire ensemble at the St. Helens City Council.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)