With “cautious optimism” the city of Cascade Locks agreed on Monday to devise a tentative plan for sharing its Enterprise Zone with other Hood River County agencies.
However, Cascade Locks Mayor Roger Freeborn and fellow public officials made it clear at the joint meeting with Hood River county, port and city leaders that any deal struck between the agencies needed to first benefit the “stepchild” municipality.
“Cascade Locks has felt for a long time that it gets ‘second best’ to the rest of the county, so what assurances would there be that would give this city equal status to Hood River?” asked Commissioner Carol York, who represents District 1 which encompasses Cascade Locks.
The 23 executives from the county, both cities and the two ports were joined by Carolyn Sanka, regional development officer from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, in agreement that Cascade Locks had the authority to set the terms for expansion of its Enterprise Zone.
“I see this meeting as working toward a united front, having the two cities, the two ports and the county all on the same page,” said Hood River Mayor Paul Cummings.
Robert Willoughby, Cascade Locks city manager, said the rural township applied for the 10-year designation three years ago and, because of its high unemployment and limited job base, was given one of 50 Enterprise Zones within the state.
He said the Enterprise Zone covers 12 square miles and suspends both real and personal property taxes for new and expanding businesses which create more jobs. He said the incentive is typically given over a three to five year period, although under special circumstances it can be extended for up to 15 years. Cascade Locks currently has nine square miles of the Zone that are available for distribution to other public lands throughout the county.
Another joint meeting has been scheduled for July to view a sample document prepared by the Cascade Locks City Council that will outline how that distribution can most benefit all parties.
“I think we are just right on the cusp of having some really good things happen in this area and it will help to have multiple voices with the same message going to the state,” said John Arens, chair of the county board.
The consensus of those gathered on the sternwheeler for the meeting was that Hood River County needed to work together as a whole to overcome its steep jobless rate. However, Cascade Locks officials reiterated that their community had the highest unemployment rates in the county and the least job opportunities.
“It really does appear that the economic expansion of the past few years really passed us by,” said Cascade Locks Port Director Chuck Daughtry.