Short handed Hood River city council deals with big slate of issues

January 25, 2012

It didn't take long for Kate McBride to get to work.

She was sworn in and then took her seat so that the Hood River City Council could get down to business. The newest member was needed quickly Monday night simply to give the council a quorum so that it could convene.

"This is nice; we got somebody who already has a nameplate (from McBride's tenure on the city planning commission)," City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge quipped. "I think it saved us $4.97."

"But we will need a new person on the planning commission, so that cancels out the nameplate savings," chuckled Mayor Arthur Babitz.

It was a busy post-snow storm slate for the depleted council Monday. Three of the seven members - Jeff Nicol, Brian McNamara and Laurent Picard - were absent. Prior to being briefed by city staff on the response to the storm, the city heard a presentation on its recent audit, a proposal on re-organizing the Urban Renewal Agency board, and a supplemental budge hearing on the Country Club realignment project.

Tara Kemp of Pauly Rogers and Co. delivered the report on the city audit findings, and said the audit found very few faults.

"It's an excellent report; it's pretty rare to find absolutely nothing," Kemp said. "There were excellent results overall."

City Manager Bob Francis discussed a recent turnaround by ODOT regarding a proposed Intergovernmental Agreement for Country Club realignment.

ODOT had originally said that any such project would need to be completed and then costs submitted for reimbursement. It then switched course and said it would cover up to $3 million with an upfront payment. However, Francis said the agency had switched course again, and reverted to its previous position of reimbursement.

Key Development, which owns property which would be accessible if the road were to be realigned, has agreed to undertake the project on the road.

"Do you anticipate that being a killer of this project?" asked Babitz.

"It could be," Francis responded, saying that he had to make inquiries to see if the reimbursement would cause cash flow problems, especially if the reimbursements were not made in a timely manner.

To that end the city approved the supplemental budget for the project, but will not sign off on the intergovernmental agreement with ODOT on the project until the payment issue is resolved.

The city also began a discussion of restructuring the Urban Renewal Agency Board. Following the recent resignations of Dawna Armstrong and Anne Frodel from city council, and the decision of several other members of the board not to continue, several holes were left to be filled, and Babitz felt it was a good time to begin a discussion on the future structure of the board.

The board is currently independent of any elected body, and has final determination over how money is spent in the city's three urban renewal districts.

Currently the board is made up of four city council members, two port board members and a member of the city planning commission.

Babitz proposed reshaping the board into an advisory committee - much like the budget or planning committees - which provide recommendations to the city council, but do not have final decision-making authority. He proposed having two representatives from each of the city's three urban renewal districts, and a member of the planning committee on the board.

Francis said he polled 31 cities throughout the state on how they handle their Urban Renewal District boards, and he said 26 of those 31 had boards which make recommendations to the city council for final decisions.

Babitz said the council would likely continue the discussion at future meetings, when more council members were present.

Before the start of the meeting and during its work session, the council heard a presentation from Hood River Valley High School speech and debate team members Ty Bofferding and Jack Patterson for their Extended Application project. The debate centered on whether Hood River should build a downtown parking facility.

Bofferding argued in favor of such a proposal, saying that the facility would present a short-term job boost and provide a source of revenue for the city. Patterson took the opposing position, saying the structure was not necessary and that the city could not afford the project in a time of austerity.

"Well, we have a position on the budget committee for Jack and a position on the planning committee for Ty," Babitz said after the presentation was finished, commending them for their well-researched debate.

During the staff reports, the council heard from several departments on their response to last week's storm, and the widespread destruction it caused.

Fire Marshal Pete Mackwell had attended the meeting, but was called to a fire. However, Francis read an event summary that he left covering last Tuesday through Friday.

During that time, Hood River Fire Department crews responded to a total of 48 calls, including six reports of downed power lines, two car accident calls on the freeway, a structure fire, a bus accident in Odell, transfer of seven patients to Portland, and a response to one fatality, a 54-year-old man who suffered cardiac arrest while shoveling snow.

The departments had all-hands-on-deck days on Friday and Saturday to bolster staff.

"Bottom line: We could still staff our transfers and meet a 50-percent increase in call volume," Mackwell wrote in his summary.

The police department also had a busy weekend, according to Chief Neal Holste.

He said the inside of the Hood River city limits road conditions were not that bad, but that the department had 204 "activities" in the city during the storm and its aftermath, including closing roads, responding to accidents and monitoring downed power lines.

Public Works Director Mark Lago gave an update on what was a mad scramble for his crews.

"We were doing really well on Wednesday when it was just snow," he said. "Thursday with the downed trees and power lines took us a bit off-track."

The ice, wind, snow and falling trees not only knocked out power to residences, it also took down the city's water chlorination plant and multiple sewer pump stations.

However, generators were able to keep all of those running.

Near the Hood River railroad bridge large trees came loose, with the potential to rip out a large segment of water line if they came down, or to take out the bridge if they were felled. Lago credited Kris Zorza from Mid-Columbia Tree for managing to both avoid the water line and bringing down the bridge when the tree fell.

Overall he was proud of the way his crews responded.

"When something like this happens, they all step up," Lago said.

Babitz emphasized the hard work the city employees had put in, and said both he, the council, and citizens were grateful.

"They all get congratulations from the city," he said.

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