A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Hard week ahead for CARA board

Written September 13th, 2014 by Hasso Hering
Part of the CARA board at a meeting last March. The board meets twice this coming week.

Part of the CARA board at a meeting last March. The board meets twice this coming week.

If you are not a member of the advisory board of the Central Albany Revitalization Area, be glad. The board faces a very tricky choice next week. If it attempts to support the city’s police and fire building projects with a big enough sum to make a difference — say $5 million or so — it would essentially gut the urban renewal plan it exists to carry out. If it sticks with the plan as written, it may doom the chances that those building projects will get the voters’ OK.

A year ago voters rejected a $20.3 million bond issue for those public safety buildings. Since then, the idea has sprung up to get CARA to help pay for the projects with urban renewal money, thus reducing the amount property owners would have to cough up to pay down a bond issue, assuming one is approved in May 2015. The idea came mainly from people who oppose, as an unwarranted give-away of public money, the CARA program of trying to improve and revive downtown.

Based on the law on urban renewal, the city staff and a consultant have concluded that CARA could possibly contribute up to about $710,000 to each of the police and fire projects with a minor amendment of the urban renewal plan. Contributing any more would require a lengthy public process and an election to change the plan, which did not include or contemplate police departments or fire stations when it was adopted in 2001.

So now, on Wednesday, the CARA board is scheduled to recommend whether and how much to support the public safety projects. It could decide to stick with the original downtown plan and let the police and fire buildings fend for themselves. And this would be reasonable considering how little difference the CARA money would make unless they practically throw out the original plan.

Then, on Thursday, the board meets again, this time to consider how to spend urban renewal funds on “public infrastructure” projects. CARA has the current capacity to borrow, on its own without an election, between $7.7 million and $11 million. Based on comments from 65 people at an open house, the top candidates for what the staff calls a “strategic investment in public infrastructure” are streetscape improvements downtown generally or on Water Avenue and the Dave Clark Path.

So this could be how this goes: On Wednesday CARA decides the police and fire buildings are none of its business, at least not in a major way, and the next night it recommends borrowing maybe $3 million or so to add landscaping, benches and decorative lighting to a few streets. If that’s what happens and people remember, you can imagine the reaction of many voters when faced with a request to borrow another $20 million or so next spring. “Never mind explanations about separate programs, different budget silos and legal requirements,” they’ll think. “If the city can pour that much borrowed money into making streets more attractive, those police and fire buldings must not be quite as important as they say.” (hh)

9 responses to “Hard week ahead for CARA board”

  1. tom cordier says:

    It really is an easy decision if the goal is to keep the tax burden as low as possible. Public safety is a major responsibility of local government—not rehabilitation of a small area of the city. Keep the question simple. How can spending taxpayer’s money be best used for highest priority projects. The very few, usual, special-interest, participants who “voted” on how CARA money should be spent should not drive this decision. The voters should decide this question.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      I agree.

      The CARA Plan already commits about 78% of its dollars to “public” projects. All that is needed for the council to ask voters to change the priorities in The CARA Plan from lighting and benches to public safety buildings (police & fire).

      The outcome of the election would be a slam-dunk victory for both the city and the taxpayer.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “If that’s what happens and people remember…”

    I guarantee, people will remember.

    It comes down to priorities. Are benches and lighting more important than public safety buildings?

    At some point common sense must prevail.

  3. Jim Clausen says:

    Yeah, it can be really hard to decide what’s more important… putting money towards more sidewalks or putting money towards the protection of the people of Albany…

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Actually, Jim, it’s not hard to decide at all, and the Albany council decided long ago that public safety was the most important thing, as reflected in the fact that the city spends in the neighborhood of $27 million this year — 80 percent of the general fund — on police and fire protection and the city court. The CARA program was launched for a specific purpose, which is provide a funding source for carrying out the Town Center Plan, whose goal was to prevent downtown from drying up. To divert money from it for a different purpose could be considered bait and switch, a maneuver that usually deserves to be frowned upon. (hh)

  4. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “To divert money from it for a different purpose…would be frowned upon.”

    This makes sense only if it was the council making the decision switch.

    In this case, the council wouldn’t switch anything. They would only be referring the question of switching to the voters. Who would frown upon that?

  5. Bob Woods says:

    OK, so you see above the comments from the extremists in the community. These folks, especially Gordon Shadle, have been trying to gut and repeal CARA since it was formed. That is the sole reason why they floated the proposal to divert CARA funds to pay for public safety services.

    Gordon, Tom and Jim opposed the previous public safety bond issue. They are unwilling to pay for the real costs that are involved in running public safety services that the public wants.

    CARA is an unqualified success. People now come from Corvallis, Salem and other places to spend their money in Albany. The downtown, some 10 years ago, was a downtrodden eyesore that stifled economic growth.

    Buildings that were structurally unsound and subject to collapse have been upgraded and are now housing vibrant businesses. Substandard water, sewer and storm drains have been replaced and upgraded to support the future commerce in the area. People putting their hard-earned money on the line to start businesses have been assisted to help insure their success.

    Some friends from Salem were happily surprised at downtown a couple of weeks ago saying “We had no ideal all this was here!”

    And a lot of work remains on CARA’s plate before it disbands in the next decade. Maybe you didn’t even know that CARA has a sunset date to complete its work.

    As was pointed out in Hasso’s article, the diversion of money may doom CARA and bring to a halt the economic expansion it has generated. This is the exact purpose that the naysayers had when they hatched this plot to eliminate CARA.

    Yes, CARA can use funds for replacing public infrastructure under the rules. Replacing sewers and water lines, and improving streets in the CARA district directly supports continued economic growth and rehabilitation in the parts of the city that are specifically zoned for that economic growth.

    Refurbishing and reusing existing areas is vastly smarter than bearing the current and future costs of pushing services farther and farther out into the farmlands. It is exactly the vision that Governor Tom McCall put in place in working to preserve Oregon’s heritage and nature for future generations.

    Police and Fire services are critical to all cities, not just Albany. Those services are citywide in nature and the responsibility for funding those needs are also city-wide.

    These needs exist regardless whether economic growth occurs in the CARA area. The needs before the citizens are to fix problems from the past; to correct longstanding problems. People know that this is an opportunity to rectify past shortsightedness and to also prepare for the city-wide needs of the future.

    Recent press stories recount how Sheriff services have been decimated in Polk county, because of the “anti-tax” fervor that trumped common sense.

    The Polk sheriff has gone from 111 employees in 2008 to 81 employees in 2013. 24 hour patrols were eliminated, and shifts cover only 10 hours a day. The people rejected a ballot measure would have cost someone with a $150,000 house about $90 per year. That amounts to less than $10 per month. Now they complain about not getting a response when they call with a problem

    Albany has managed it’s money very well. It has maintained a strong bond rating. It has reduced staffing, yet adjusted priorities to maintain services in a way that other governments have not. It continued to invest in economic development and the jobs that brings, throughout the Great Recession.

    There are always naysayers who badmouth all government. In fact it’s become an American blood sport in recent years.

    Albany is not the Federal Government. Albany is your friends and neighbors. Its elected officials are folks you see and chat with at grocery stores and church every week.

    Following a path to provide for needed public safety services AND pursuing a strong emphasis on economic development is precisely the course a city should follow.

    • James Carrick says:

      “That is the sole reason why they floated the proposal to divert CARA funds to pay for public safety services.”

      Mr. Woods would have us believe that the “extremists” (his term) SOLE purpose is to ” gut and repeal CARA.” If that is so, then Mr. Woods position is just as extreme in the opposite. I look at it as a common sense one time solution to solve a city wide need using funds already (possibly) available. People are tired of having government hands in their wallets for something new every time they turn around.

      Many concerned citizens acknowledge the need for both police and fire buildings, yet don’t appreciate the way the council is shoving the solutions at us. Mr. Woods may not be considering that when CARA was approved by voters, many were totally unaware of how CARA was to be funded. Ignorance is no excuse, but the current reality is that NOW, people ARE aware and are now pushing back. Fool us once, shame on you…Fool us twice, shame on us, the voters. Politicians at every level take advantage of a relatively uninformed electorate. CARA was no exception.

      It is hard to see how CARA would be “gutted” by using a portion of their available funds towards needed public safety facilities. There is considerable public support to do just that and the council would be wise to consider putting that matter to vote. It IS our money, after all. All too often government forgets who they serve and where the funding comes from. They should NOT be serving their egos and it is NOT government money, it is TAXPAYER money.

      I would add that the decision to site the new police station on south Pacific Blvd. is ill advised as well, if it is to replace the current facility on Jackson. I think the Jackson St. facility should be maintained in a form suitable to its proximity to the jail and it’s central location. Administration and a “precinct” could be located on south Pacific, but that is a poor location where response time and central location is a consideration, and it should be. Albany is not expanding in that direction, generally. The council seems to have other ideas. It seems that we need some people thinking “outside the box” to weigh in before any major, irreversible decisions are made and I have yet to see it.

      If the public had the feeling or impression that the council was listening to the public, rather than being “smarter than the public they serve,” I think the council would find more support, and that includes the idea of using CARA funds to partially fund these needed facilities. The “blank check approach” sure didn’t work. They have largely squandered the Pepsi money on items of dubious need, and every time the public reads about “forgivable loans” from CARA, it leaves a VERY bad taste in our mouths. Forgivable? Are these grants? Or are they loans? Which is it? Can’t be both. A little plain English would be nice as well.

      Wise up, council and CARA zealots. The fire and police facilities will ALSO increase and enhance the livability of Albany. If you ram something we don’t like down our throats again, you will incur the same result.

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    Without DHS moving into the old Sears building, how many people work downtown compared to 30 years ago?
    IF it made sense to open a business downtown, all the businesses that moved out would have stayed.


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