Opinion

Mayor encourages public participation

My sincere appreciation and thanks to the chamber's Government Affairs Committee for their support of the city's adjustment to the business and occupation tax. Your collective voice is important to the city. The adjustment sets the tax at the same level for all businesses, with 80 percent of the revenue being dedicated to transportation/road improvements and 20 percent to offset inflationary costs of public safety. Revenues derived will be used for nothing else.

My special thanks to Jennifer Lynham and Chris Garcia who led the committee in asking tough questions and then listening to the answers. There is a direct benefit to the business community and I appreciate their recognition of that fact.

A couple other facts I'd like to set straight: The city of North Bend approved the SnoBend short plat in November 2001 (a complete application was received in January 2000, not 10 years ago as some have stated!). The SnoBend Master Site Plan application was not submitted until June 2002 and a complete application has never been submitted to date. Again the city approved the short plat; the applicant and a homeowner's association both appealed that decision. The applicant thought the conditions imposed were too restrictive, the homeowner's association thought they were too lenient. The independent hearings officer ruled in favor of the homeowners.

This past year the city of North Bend approved a 258-unit apartment building by innovative thinking and a generous agreement with Sallal Water Association. We approved a 385,000-square-foot commercial/industrial development on the Tollgate Farm property that was submitted prior to the moratorium. This is the most aggressive project approval rate in this city since the early '90s. All development has not been halted.

Again I would remind you that the city received $900,000 in grants and a $500,000 gift towards purchase of the Tollgate Farm. The $200,000 note from Trust for Public Lands was interest free and paid from reserves. Remaining bond payments for preserved open space do not come from the general fund, which supplies the maintenance/operations and salaries for the city. The payments come from excise tax on real estate sales and are restricted by city and state law to only be used on capital projects listed in our Capital Improvement Plan. Those funds cannot be transferred to the general fund. Most of the "discretionary budget" funds were dedicated to another 10 percent increase in human-service contributions. That is a 20 percent increase to human-services needs in this Valley in two years with very tight budget times. These funds represent a whopping 1 percent of our general fund, which few cities match - proportionately. Certainly none of the Valley cities come close to this generosity.

Next year we also have 21 capital projects planned either for design or construction. The receipt of grants, as well as the restructuring of utilities, has funded an ambitious capital budget. This will be our crowning year for street/drainage/traffic improvements and I ask for your patience as we move into the construction season next year. Never have we taken on such a challenge.

There are many projects that we are juggling at the same time, and the inherited water-rights problem continues to be a primary focus. We have the state's top minds in the legal and hydrology fields working with our own staff to seek solutions. We have offered the Department of Ecology four very workable plans; we have still not received approval, but I continue to push our agenda hard with the governor, legislators and other jurisdictions.

The city earmarked 30 percent of revenues derived from the Mountain Valley (Safeway) development to act as a catalyst for small beautification projects, parking lots and paving improvements. With technical expertise for facade programs, six properties were awarded grants from the city to help renovate historic buildings. Public investment of approximately $450,000 fostered private investment of approximately $5,000,000. From 1998 to 2002, the downtown area has shown an approximate 27 percent increase in gross receipts.

The city has received statewide and national recognition for this unique effort, yet has been blasted as thwarting business. I have been asked to serve on the steering committee with the state historic preservation to help re-write the state plan and also lobby on a national level for additional funds for our community. The Economic Development Committee is interviewing consultants to help them develop an economic development plan for the city. I agree that a successful business climate is vital to the economic stability of the community and we will continue to dedicate our time and financial resources to this endeavor.

It is appropriate to ask whether local government is providing efficient and effective service. My door is open and I strive to be responsive to questions and concerns. I encourage citizen participation and seek positive input and ideas for creative solutions. The council and I do not always agree; differing opinions are an important part of a successful democracy. I would encourage everyone to research your facts and discuss policies and plans rather than personalities and people. I am always amazed at the quality of folks, from the national to local level, who are willing to put their personal lives on hold in this climate where it seems that the majority of the public would rather criticize then get involved. Perhaps if there were less criticism, there would be more participation. We have been recruiting to fill key positions on our advisory commissions and the interview team comprised of the mayor, mayor protem and the commission chair will be recommending appointments to the full council for confirmation. Next year we will invite knowledgeable fire fighters and citizens to join in the public safety facility work plan. The council intends to expand to seven members for 2004. The Metropolitan Parks District Committee is seeking board members. There are many opportunities to serve our community. As we start into an election year, I encourage you to be fair and charitable, and remind you to base your opinions on the facts. Your elected officials are just ordinary folks trying to make difficult decisions in extraordinary times.

Joan Simpson is mayor of North Bend.

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