State of the City
Good afternoon, and thank you all for attending today’s luncheon. I want to especially thank the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, Salem City Club and Salem Rotary for sponsoring the State of the City address each year. The invocation by Rick Gaupo and introduction by Chane Griggs are especially appreciated, as I have known them for several years and appreciate all they have done to make Salem a stronger, more vibrant, and healthier community.
Scattered around the room are the City Councilors who help make this City zing:
• Ward1 Chuck Bennett • Ward2 Tom Andersen • Ward3 Brad Nanke • Ward4 Council President Steve McCoid • Ward5 Diana Dickey • Ward6 Daniel Benjamin • Ward7 Warren Bednarz • Ward8 sadly (for us) Ward 8 Councilor Jim Lewis is not with us today because even a volunteer Councilor deserves a vacation once in a while.
Working with us are our highly professional City Manager, Department Heads, Chiefs and Judge:
• Jane Aiken, Municipal Court Judge • City Manager Steve Powers • Deputy City Manager Kacey Duncan • City Attorney Dan Atchison • Public Works Director Peter Fernandez • Community Development Director Glenn Gross • Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford • Police Chief Gerry Moore • Fire Chief Mike Niblock • Information Technology Director Krishna Namburi • Human Resources Director Mina Hanssen
I also want to recognize the city employees for their daily work and for the many personal hours they give to food drives, toy collections, blood drives, and numerous other community projects to make life in Salem better.
State of the City is a wonderful opportunity to confirm my constant theme: Salem is the Collaboration Capitol, an International City and a community moving forward on many fronts. Looking back at 2015 I saw a year of challenge and change. The year opened with four new City Councilors, retirements of our City Manager, Urban Development Director and Administrative Services Director, leaving us short-handed for most of the year. Homelessness and panhandling became larger problems and bathrooms open 24/7 were badly needed downtown. The police department continued working out of cramped space with no clear solution in sight. The cost of parking went up causing a run on quarters and more criticism of our outdated rusty parking meters. And then out of the blue---came the attack owl in Bush Park.
Solving these problems and moving forward is always our charge and our duty, and I am pleased to say that the City Council and City staff rose to the challenges and made 2015 a year of team building and accomplishments.
With retirements we said good-bye to Linda Norris, John Wales, and Deborah Bond. Kacey Duncan became Interim City Manager and did an exemplary job of guiding the City and capitalizing on our professional staffs’ commitment to roll up sleeves and get the job done. Congratulations, Kacey, for a job well done! The Council undertook a nation-wide search for a new City Manager, and found the perfect candidate in Steve Powers, who joined us November 30th. His well-honed management skills and commitment to community involvement prove that we got it right. I know that change is inevitable, and I strongly believe that it provides the perfect opportunity for new approaches and higher goals. I am pleased to report that Mr. Powers is taking this charge and has wasted no time in hiring our new Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford and realigning our administrative functions.
So, how did we meet these and other challenges----and how did we turn a cranky owl into a pot of gold?
First and foremost, is our progress on Economic Development and job creation. Richard Pine said it perfectly in a recent Statesman Journal comment, “The best social service plan is a job.” So true. So true. And so well understood by this Council and City Hall.
Through the Urban Development Department, working closely with SEDCOR, Business Oregon, the Salem Chamber and our utility partners, last year we saw announcements and new investments from several local companies, including PES (in North Gateway), Wandering Angus Ciderworks, West Coast Washers, Diamond/Kettle Foods and Taylor Metals:
• In July 2015 Diamond Foods opened its 7,000 SF Food Innovation Center.
• In 2015 Garmin AT completed its $14 million building expansion. Garmin anticipates adding up to 150 more employees!
• Our Downtown Advisory Board and staff are working to identify acquisition opportunities within the $2.5 million budget allocation with a focus on mixed use development.
• In the last year the City has provided $1 million dollars for building improvements in North Gateway and $840,000 in downtown to six projects with total costs of $3.3 million. These funds allowed businesses to fill vacant spaces or expand their current space. Enhanced alleys, twelve more residential units, and upgraded building facades will entice more new businesses and vitality downtown!
• And speaking of vitality, when the Pringle Square Apartments opened on the former Boise site, things really began to hum. Hundreds of new residents began strolling, shopping, eating and generally enjoying downtown and Riverfront Park. In December the Council received the West Salem Business District Action Plan to help guide funding priorities on either side of Wallace Road and we will continue working with the community on the plan for Marine Drive and an under-crossing of Wallace Road at Second Street.
The North Gateway Advisory Board continues planning for economic development opportunities and new jobs in North Salem. Recommendations include:
• Rolling out new financial incentives to motivate development and business growth with strong focus on small businesses along N. Portland Road---including reviewing the viability of a food incubator and public marketplace. New housing in the area might be part of mixed use development.
• Also in 2015 the City Council supported grant funding for the opening of the Salem-Keizer School District’s Career Technical Education Center. This state of the art facility provides important workforce training for high school students in the district, and is a “game-changer” in the way that technical and academic subjects are blended in a work environment--- just like the for-profit businesses outside their doors and across the region.
Salem is blessed with many educational institutions including our wonderful high schools, Chemeketa Community College, Corbin University, Western Oregon State University, Willamette University and others that provide education and collaborative projects in government and businesses. Could the City do more to foster these relationships? Yes we can, and I think you will soon begin to hear about more ways the City and businesses are developing relationships and agreements to do just that!
This region has seen a strong surge in tourism with TOT revenue increasing by 20% to a total of $3.4 million in 2015! Our Salem Convention Center celebrated their 10 year Anniversary and received the Best of the Best Award from NW Meetings and Events Magazine in 2015!
A true indicator of economic health is the number of permits issued annually by the Community Development department. This last year was a busy one indeed!
Single family dwelling permits held steady but multi-family permits have increased dramatically—in 2015 they surged to 400 multifamily permits issued which is a 400% increase from last year!
Land use applications were up 13% in 2015 but more significantly pre-application conferences shot up from 60 in 2014 to 125 in 2015—this is a 108% increase!
To aid in development the City implemented a project Coordinator Program which provides large economic development projects with a project coordinator to guide them through the permitting processes---free of charge!
We have started the first phase of an e-plan review that allows the submission of building plans for review on-line, 24/7, from anywhere in the World!
A thriving economy, growing businesses, and vibrant residential sectors depend on responsive Public Safety services. I am pleased to report that the City Council and City of Salem continue to focus our attention on Public Safety.
• Last July, a new ambulance provider, Falck, began transporting patients in Salem. They bring a fleet of ten ambulances during peak hours to assist in providing quick response to patients with medical emergencies.
• Salem Fire Department responded to over 20,000 calls—an increase of 6% over last year—while still achieving the response time standard of arrival in 5.5 minutes 73% of the time.
• The Salem Police Department continues to set high standards for innovation. This year they graduated the 30th class from their popular Citizens Police Academy. They began a coordinated effort with the Marion County Sheriff’s office and the Marion County Mental Health Department to better respond to those in mental health crises, both at the time of the event and with follow-up at a later date. This joint agency program is a model for the rest of the State! Salem has seen a reduction in the overall crime rate and our downtown team, in particular, with their community policing style has helped to prevent crime, improve relations and make everyone feel safe and protected in the downtown core.
All Mayors in Oregon will tell you that maintaining and developing infrastructure is a principal priority and major activity. Salem is often at the forefront in that regard. 2015 saw considerable work as we completed projects across the community:
• The Skyline Road S Corridor Improvements added turn lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks and street lighting.
• In West Salem, Eola Drive NW was reshaped and made safer for pedestrians from Edgewater to Kingwood and the Eola Ridge Park was improved.
• The Winter Street Bridge over Mill Creek at Salem Health was replaced.
• On South River Road, do you remember the boulder the size of a car that rolled down the hillside? That steep cliff bank was repaired and made more stable.
• Bicycle and pedestrian improvements at intersections on 17th and 13th Streets, NE make those heavily traveled routes safer.
Safety for pedestrians and bikers continue to be a major concern and I am sorry to say that this year the number of pedestrian deaths has been absolutely appalling. Council received a report from the Police Department detailing the causes and we must now take action! I propose a community-wide education and action plan to stop these tragic deaths. It will take a collaboration of driver, pedestrian and bicyclist attention along with traffic management, but I am convinced that as a community we can meet this challenge.
Beyond the physical aspects of City of Salem infrastructure, the City is at the heart of a virtual infrastructure that links people across our community. This vital web of connections builds our mental, physical and emotional health and brings vitality and optimism to our lives. Accomplishments of the past year tell a great story and reflect just how well our community is doing.
The Salem Public Library continues to be the meeting place of choice---the Children’s Area was remodeled, we added Sunday hours last summer and had the most summer reading participants ever! Our public library circulated 1.2 million items and added 11,086 new library card holders, including Governor Kate Brown and First Gentleman Daniel Little!
The highly successful 1000 Soles Community Shoe Drive is in its 5th year of collecting new and gently used shoes for children and teens---to date over 5,500 pairs of shoes and $6,200 has been collected and distributed.
On the International front, we strengthened our strong bond with our Kawagoe Sister City and re-inked our accord during their annual festival. Our City was well represented by Councilor Brad Nanke, Interim City Manager Kacey Duncan and citizens of our beautiful City of Salem. The Korean Sister City group joins World Beat with a cultural booth for the first time. A citizens group is working to re-establish ties to our Sister City in Salem, India. The Mayor’s International Council continues to bring together representatives from our diverse community and plans are underway for a Multi-Cultural Potluck and a lecture series.
Neighborhood Associations are as active as ever. Residents worked with City staff to finalize the first joint neighborhood plan for the North East Neighbors and South East Salem Neighborhood Association. Others worked to create the Heritage Neighborhood Program and designated Grant as our first Heritage Neighborhood! This is a true celebration of the rich history of the Grant neighborhood.
We continue to see a vibrant, engaged community as we move forward on the redevelopment of the North Campus of the Oregon State Hospital. Working closely with the Northeast Salem Community Association, the State Department of Administrative Services and Salem’s legislative delegation we continue to support redevelopment of this important 44 acre site in our urban core.
Parks are loved by Salem residents, as people of all ages in all parts of town enjoy them year-round. In 2015/16 we will plant 1,687 trees and 1500 native shrubs in City right of ways, parks, and along streams to increase the City tree canopy and provide shade for our streams.
With the help of the Salem Parks Advisory Board, the Minto Island Park Plan was finalized, and staff and contractors are working on the trails and way finding signs for that park. Last year at the State of the City I asked you to join us at the groundbreaking for the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge---this year I am happy to announce that the installation of the rib arches that will frame the bridge structure are expected in April and we are still on track for completion in the Fall of 2016!
Speaking of Parks, that pesky owl turned out to be a media sensation that went viral! Calls and e-mails came in from around the world and sales of that sign raised over $10,000 for the Parks Foundation. Talk about a bird in the hand!!
Volunteers are at the forefront of every aspect of City life. They serve on 19 Advisory Boards, Commissions and Committees. Nearly 200 people from Neighborhood associations, businesses and social services contribute their time and expertise to advise City Council.
Adopt a Street, National Night Out and community gardens are just a few examples of the virtual infrastructure that runs throughout our community.
Friends and Foundations have multiplied, bringing hours and money to special projects and facilities for our Fire Department, Police Department, Library, Parks and Center 50+. This outpouring of community support makes our community a safer and more vibrant place to live, work and play.
• The Fire Foundation’s purchase of over 100 AED units for police cars and businesses, coupled with an extensive training program for students will save lives.
• The Police Foundation provided a running program for youth and cameras for two K-9 units. I wonder if they take selfies?
• The Friends of Center 50+ provided 65,000 hours of service and partnered with Marion-Polk Food Share to serve hot meals to seniors at the Center and in their homes.
There are many more examples of Friends and Foundations, and I urge you to support their projects and help meet their fund-raising goals.
As I said at the beginning of the speech, homelessness is a pressing issue and one we cannot ignore. In the downtown area our local churches and the Art A Potty volunteers stepped forward last year to provide shelter and bathrooms in several spots downtown-- -we owe them thanks for these caring efforts.
We are the Collaboration Capitol and together with Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark, Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson, Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler we have launched the Mid-Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force. Our first meeting drew a standing room only attendance of community members and service providers. I am convinced that with this type of community support we will find new resources and bring innovative solutions to reduce the plight of individuals and families who now sleep under bridges, in cars, on couches, or double up in rental houses and apartments while they wait for the affordable housing we so desperately need.
In wrapping up, I need to look into the future toward two vitally important matters. Looking farthest out, the third bridge over the Willamette—the Salem Alternative—has strong support from every jurisdiction in our region and is moving steadily along. The record of decision on the Environmental Impact Statement is the next step, and I can assure you that we will not waiver in our commitment to bring that much needed connector into reality.
Closer in time, I am pleased to report that City Council has selected a site for the new Police Facility, and we will be moving forward to plan the size and cost in preparation for a November bond measure. More details about this will be provided regularly on the City of Salem website.
From a year of change and challenge, I believe that our City Council, the City management and staff, and this Community are pulling together as a team----2016 and beyond will bring more great news for beautiful City of Salem! Thank you for joining me today. You are an important part of the Virtual Infrastructure that binds our community and makes it strong!