Wilsonville council discusses funding strategy in goal-setting session
The list of ambitious projects Wilsonville City Council would like to see realized is extensive.
There's bridges over Interstate-5 and the Willamette River, river access facilities and a sports field complex, a new facility that could house cultural programming and an affordable housing complex at the Wilsonville Transit Center, just to name a few.
The hard part, though, is finding funding.
Currently, the city doesn't have a comprehensive funding strategy to determine how and in what order these projects will be funded. During the city's goal-setting session May 14-15, the council discussed creating such a plan — along with many other potential priorities — for the next two years.
"Everything we do is challenging to fund," City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said at one of the sessions.
The city's goals, which inform the staff's work over the next two years, haven't been finalized — but the council provided insight into what that final list may look like during the gatherings last week.
Mayor Julie Fitzgerald liked the idea of creating a comprehensive financial plan.
"Because we have a financial plan, we have the tools we need to be realistic and ambitious at the same time," she said.
Cosgrove said establishing a plan for the city's active urban renewal districts, which funnel tax revenue associated with increases in property values to city projects and which the city has used aggressively over the years to spur development, could be part of that process. He noted that two of the city's three districts, in Villebois and the employment area that includes Mentor Graphics, are slated to expire soon. The council may consider using urban renewal funds for some of the initiatives and its plan to transform the Town Center commercial district.
"We don't have a strategic plan for unwinding and starting new districts. That would be extremely useful," Cosgrove said.
Urban renewal, however, may not be a panacea.
In one of the city's existing urban renewal districts, the Coffee Creek Industrial Area, Community Development Director Chris Neamtzu said development has continued to stall but he expressed hope that greater interest could come in after the first development begins and, in turn, start to bring in revenue to the urban renewal district.
"We have not seen significant investment in Coffee Creek to achieve the outcomes we're striving for," he said, adding that owners in the area not wanting to sell has been a challenge.
Cosgrove noted the city will be paid $17 million dollars through its agreement to allow cities like Beaverton and Hillsboro access to its water treatment plant via a pipeline by 2026, and it could look into whether it could designate funds prior to that date.
Councilor Joann Linville felt that it wasn't yet time for the council to prioritize specific projects for funding and the council did not do that at the meetings.
Based on feedback from Fitzgerald and Linville, the city is looking into creating a dashboard so citizens can easily see how the city is progressing on its current goals and projects.
"It's a way we can show both council and the community how all these plans work together and where they're at in terms of implementation," Cosgrove said.
Councilors also expressed interest in spurring workforce development programs due to a shortage of highly-skilled labor in the industrial sector. Cosgrove said the city could convene sessions addressing the topic but doesn't have the resources to do anything more ambitious than that.
Another goal the council seemed to emphasize was emergency preparedness and, specifically, finding better ways to remind local citizens to ready themselves for events similar or worse than the ice storm earlier this year or wildfires in 2020. Cosgrove said there were disparities among different neighborhoods in Wilsonville in terms of preparedness and that reminding people consistently about the importance of the issue could be helpful.
"As the local government I think it's incumbent upon us to continually push out information so people are thinking about it all the time. I don't think it's a once-per-year emergency preparedness month. I think we have to do more in that regard," Cosgrove said.
Even in Charbonneau, which had plans in place prior to the events, Linville said better coordination is needed.
"I think it was a great exercise but we have some work to do," she said.
Councilor Charlotte Lehan felt that getting more communication from Portland General Electric would also be useful in the future.
Despite the fact that Charbonneau has underground utilities, it was out of power for days.
"It totally surprised me that we would lose power in Charbonneau for that long," Lehan said.
The moderator for the session also said that continuing to look at all city issues through an equity lens was the biggest focus among councilors in conversations prior to goal-setting, and the city discussed establishing something related to diversity, equity and inclusion as one of its goals as well.
"There's an opportunity for continued council support and creating an environment in Wilsonville where people feel safe to engage," the moderator said.
Providing more housing variety to the community and specifically opportunities for first-time homebuyers was something for which councilors showed enthusiasm.
"We have lots of rentals and I'm glad we do. We have a huge opportunity for that. Allowing people to climb that economic ladder and giving them a chance to own a piece (of property) … that's where I was coming from," Councilor Ben West said.
Adding a section about the city's continued concern about potential plans for expansion at the Aurora Airport to the city's comprehensive plan was also discussed at the meeting. West vehemently disagreed with the idea and the city's continued disputes over airport planning and said the assertion that larger cargo jets will be flown into the airport soon is false. He referred to the city and councilors' thinking on the airport as an echo chamber.
Most of the council is concerned about the potential for increased pollution in a variety of forms emanating from a potentially-expanded airport, as well as traffic.
Fitzgerald said Wilsonville doesn't know if the state's plans to expand facilities like a runway would usher in larger jets but that the city needs to be vigilant about potential possibilities.
"There is a large contingency of taxpayers and citizens and people who are in business and have businesses who are concerned," she said. "We have heard from those people and listened to those people."
During the meetings, there was also some talk about developing a Climate Action Strategy or to piggyback off of the one Clackamas County has already created — and creating a goal around protecting the environment.
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