A snapshot of county issues

Feb. 19, 2011

Four official representatives presented a "five-minute overview" of short- and long-term issues facing Hood River County on Tuesday, bringing both challenges and projects into focus.

The Hood River County Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs breakfast featured Bob Francis, Hood River city manager; David Meriwether, county administrator; Chuck Daughtry, Cascade Locks Port general manager; and George Fischer, newly elected mayor of Cascade Locks.

The roundtable began with Meriwether acknowledging a major issue facing county coffers.

"We need to address the Secure Rural Schools funding which is slated to go away this year. We have to find a way to make up for the loss of income from the federal forest cuts offsets," Meriwether said. "Our road fund is very dependent on that continued revenue."

In fact, the county's last budgeted road fund included $1.3 million from that source within the total $4.3 million line item.

Meriwether noted that President Obama's recently released budget does include a five-year step-down extension of the program. However, reductions or elimination are still possible for the funding.

If passed in its current form, the federal program extension will drop revenue by 10 percent every year for the next five years.

Additional impacts from this federal funding question will potentially be felt by the Hood River County School District, which received approximately $461,000 from the same source this budget cycle.

Summarizing two large projects now in the works for the county - the Indian Creek Greenbelt Concept and the Hood River Crossing affordable housing project on Cascade Ave. - Meriwether noted that successful partnerships with the city, parks district and college have allowed these projects to proceed.

The county is also preparing to undertake a water resource analysis in which surveys will be conducted to assess existing and long-term projected water availability.

"This is a very precious resource and we want to ensure that our county is planning for sustainability," said Meriwether.

Studies will be conducted on current ground and surface water supplies as well as predicted future replenishment and usage.

"We don't want to end up like some places that are unable to maintain their way of life," Meriwether said.

Traffic management issues were also presented by Meriwether, connected to the proposed 30,000-square-foot expansion of the Walmart store on Cascade, increased traffic flow and the nearby re-alignment of the I-84 exit 62 interchange.

The related intersection upgrade project at Cascade and Rand was budgeted initially at $500,000, but recent estimates are coming in closer to $900,000. The county is in negotiations with Walmart regarding potential cost share.

Francis later also addressed proposed traffic changes at Second and Oak - articulating a proposed sequence of three stop lights on Second as a way to better mediate traffic flow.

Three capital projects are now in process under city supervision: The renovation of the old city hall building (and relocation of offices from the 301 Oak St. building), the renovation and expansion of the fire hall and the installation of a sewer lift station near the Pacific Power substation and the related elimination of the existing sewer line along Indian Creek trail.

Cascade Locks weighed in with several upcoming noteworthy items, as presented by Daughtry, including: a planned bicycling event in June; the April 13 installation of two large bronze statues commemorating Native American guide Sacagawea and Seaman, the dog mascot from the Lewis and Clark party; a proposed mountain bike trail and the installation of a new 10,000-square-foot steel frame industrial building.

Cascade Locks is in the process of upgrading access for a sail park at the industrial park beach front area and is in negotiations with local tribes over potential fish impacts.

Water-related issues were later presented by Fischer, who noted that Cascade Locks must plan for replacement of the antiquated water storage system.

In addition, Fischer updated the group on the negotiations with the Nestlé Company for the sale of city controlled drinking water.

According to Fischer, "Nestlé anticipates that people will be bringing lawsuits against the proposed bottling plant."

He also noted that within six to eight months, the negotiations will be completed for most legal questions and that, if approved, the plant would be built within two years.

Meeting attendee OSU Extension Service Staff Chair Brian Tuck took the final moments of the gathering to alert the audience to impending budget cuts.

Those cuts, being considered at the state level, would seriously affect the Extension Service programs in Hood River County.

"We believe this will be close to 25 percent of our budget," said Tuck. Combining those cuts with budget constraints on the county (which also provides limited funding to Extension), will pose threats to current programs.

"We bring in millions of research dollars to the community," noted Tuck. "Potential cuts would limit our office's ability to bring those monies to the local economy."

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