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Q and A: HR City Council candidate question and answer

Tim Counihan, Kate McBride, Megan Saunders and Mark Zanmiller

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Tim Counihan

Tim Counihan

My wife, Jen Bayer, and I have lived in the Columbia River Gorge since 1993; my son was born in Hood River. Professionally, I am a research biologist. As City Councilor, I serve on committees for Stormwater and Traffic Growth management. I also serve on our School District budget committee.

What are your top three goals if elected?

  1. Promote development of affordable housing

  2. Maintain fiscal stability of the city

  3. Manage growth to promote livability, sound environmental policies, and local businesses

What is the role of the City Council?

As defined in the Hood River City Charter, the Hood River City Council “is the policy making body of the City of Hood River.”

Name one un- or under-funded program or project you would promote as member of council, and why:

Planning for the build out of Hood River to its Urban Growth Boundary — how this happens will seriously affect how our community feels and functions.

State your stance or concerns about the following issues:

Affordable Housing

The City Council has made the development of affordable housing a priority. The city has commissioned a Housing Needs Assessment that outlines strategies for developing affordable housing (see centralpt.com/upload/375/2015HousingStudy/19120_Hood-RiverHousingSummaryReport2015Final.pdf). In this document are strategies to meet housing needs and recommended actions to develop affordable housing. I am committed to working to implement these actions that include working with non-profit and private housing providers to ensure availability of housing affordable to lower- and moderate-income households.

Economic Development

The city should continue to work with organizations such as the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District to provide access to economic development loans and grants and to facilitate technical assistance, marketing, and other resources to local businesses. Local small businesses are important job creators in Hood River and we should foster an environment that helps them. That is, the success of economic development actions is related to many items discussed in this questionnaire (e.g., infrastructure, housing).

Traffic and Transportation

As Hood River grows, so will traffic; I’m sure most everyone feels that traffic is worse now than it used to be. In addition to making it easier to bike and walk now, we need to ensure new growth facilitates bikeable and walkable neighborhoods. I am thrilled to represent the city in the development of the Westside Area Concept Plan that addresses land use, streets, bike ways, pedestrian paths, parks, schools, utilities, and infrastructure funding.

Growth

The biggest challenge facing Hood River is how to manage growth in a way that provides for affordable housing, honors our locally owned small businesses, is done in an environmentally sustainable way, and results in outcomes that keep Hood River the wonderful place to live that it is today. We need to be proactive and commit to plan for a vision of the future that works for everyone. Planning is the key to successful growth.

PERS

If pension and health care costs for municipal workers outpace the growth of property taxes or other revenue sources, less money will be available to provide services.

Hood River has limited control over PERS policy changes or the effects of Measures 5 and 50; therefore, reforms need to occur at the state level. In the absence of these reforms, choices will eventually need to be made regarding how to fund services provided by the city.

Tourism

Tourism is clearly important to the economy of Hood River, bringing folks in to shop at our local businesses and to eat at our restaurants. However, I have heard from local business owners that their businesses really rely on the people who live here all year. While we want to continue to promote tourism, we need to ensure that we strike a balance across sectors so our local economy is sustainable in the long run.

Public safety funding

Public safety issues range from fire and law enforcement services to hazards from coal and oil trains. As fire and law enforcement services become more expensive, we are faced with trade-offs between living within the existing permanent rate that will eventually reduce services and increased taxes. Funding scenarios include status quo, periodic levies to fund equipment needs, or an operating levy to enhance services. I favor the latter approach that is subject to voter approval.

Describe your stance on the local marijuana tax option coming before voters on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and explain how the city should regulate businesses that take part in the emerging marijuana industry.

I voted to proceed with the tax measure. The regulation of marijuana related businesses falls primarily to the OLCC; however, local municipalities can make zoning decisions and adopt restrictions regarding time, place, and manner. We should track the effects of these new businesses on our community and act accordingly.

Summarize Hood River SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)?

Strengths: Dedicated staff, involved public, local businesses

Weaknesses: Staffing shortfalls, ageing infrastructure, funding uncertainties

Opportunities: People love it here, buildable lands

Threats: People love it here, external economic factors

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Kate McBride

Kate McBride

I’ve lived in the Hood River Valley my whole life. Donated time to children’s school activities and then civic or advocacy work after 2002. Served on City Planning Commission for seven years, then appointed to city council and ran for the position four years ago. Work as Land Trust Manager.

What are your top three goals if elected?

Help facilitate additional 100 residences per year (numerous incomes).

More resiliency in the event of natural disasters/climate change impacts.

Enhance connection between downtown and waterfront.

What is the role of the City Council?

To provide a place for all people to work/live and enjoy the community amenities.

Provide water, sewer, road infrastructure and police, EMT, and fire services.

Name one un- or under-funded program or project you would promote as member of council, and why:

Add contract or planning staff to move toward implementation of last year’s housing strategy of bringing to fruition the 100 residences we need per year.

State your stance or concerns about the following issues:

Affordable Housing

I believe achieving affordable and attainable housing are now in crisis mode. As of today, there are only eight houses listed for sale in the city between $320,000 and $500,000. Nothing under $320,000. The city needs to do everything it can to make ways to facilitate lower priced home ownership and available and affordable rentals in the city that will continue to be affordable into the future.

Economic Development

We currently have the lowest unemployment rate in the state, which speaks to lots of work others have done in the past. The amenities that are provided along with our beautiful geography and climate attract good employers. Keeping some of these employers in the future may be dependent on what housing can be provided.

Traffic and Transportation

The transportation growth management study for the west side will be completed soon; this will help us plan for better movement of bikes, pedestrians, and vehicles in the 400-acre study area. Rand/Cascade and Second and Oak streets are the next bottlenecks to be addressed. Both of these intersections involving ODOT are important. The other important connector will be the new Mt. Adams Avenue, relief for traffic at Ninth, 13th, and Rand, going south to the Heights.

Growth

The buildable lands inventory completed last year indicates that we have enough land for anticipated growth for 20 years in the urban growth boundary (UGB), if we use up infill, densify, and can work with special districts to expand the city limits into the designated UGB. We have to accomplish this, as expansion into farm/forest zones and the National Scenic Area will be nearly impossible.

PERS

The public employees’ retirement system obligates the City of Hood River to retirement rate payments that will keep increasing for possibly another 20 years. Unless something can be changed at the state level that will mean that the taxes received by the city will first have to go to those payments and current public works, planning, fire, or police services may have to be reduced to make those payments.

Tourism

The chamber and Visitors Council have done a very good job of promoting tourism and extending the shoulder season for visitors to enjoy our community. Challenges of traffic congestion, public safety, and housing are intensified by tourists, which add more to the work load of city staff. Additional staff for parking and planning have been added in the last few years, but more may be needed in the future.

Public safety funding

Police, fire, and emergency services are prioritized in the general budget and compete with each other and additional other city functions. Some large fire apparatus may need to be partially purchased with bonds, as the need for additional safety personnel will be needed as the city grows and fills with tourists for longer periods each year.

Describe your stance on the local marijuana tax option coming before voters on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and explain how the city should regulate businesses that take part in the emerging marijuana industry.

I support the tax option, with the funding being used for public safety and education. The taxes should be used to educate the public (especially youth) on the health and safety issues associated with its use. Law enforcement may also need additional funding to detect and detain marijuana impaired drivers.

Summarize Hood River SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)?

Staff and councils team work ability; need more capacity to accomplish goals faster; working with county, Cascade Locks, and ports on the threats of climate change and energy.

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Megan Saunders

Megan Saunders

Megan Saunders moved from the Boston area seven years ago for an AmeriCorps position. Since then she has continued her work with the Watershed Group and Soil and Water Conservation District, now as the Watershed Project manager. She enjoys hiking, playing frisbee, and nerding out about the Hood River.

What are your top three goals if elected?

Support public and green space, housing availability for all income levels, and wise development of the city, especially Heights Urban Renewal and on the Westside.

What is the role of the City Council?

Within the bounds of the City Charter, Council sets policy through planning, budgeting, and other legislative actions. Council should represent the needs of the whole community.

Name one un- or under-funded program or project you would promote as member of council, and why:

Increasing public/open space and parks. Green space is vital for the mental and physical health of residents and will become more important as densities increase.

State your stance or concerns about the following issues:

Affordable Housing

Increasing costs are pricing residents out of the city or are forcing difficult decisions between housing, food security, and other health indicators. This is a huge hardship for our low-income neighbors, but is also a loss for the wider community. The city needs to continue to prioritize affordable housing, build partnerships, and find creative solutions, while also putting in the effort to place affordable housing developments within wider well-planned, accessible, and livable neighborhoods.

Economic Development

Support a healthy and diverse economy by providing adequate, available, and affordable housing to employees within all economic sectors and at all income levels. In addition, the city needs to provide and maintain services, continue urban renewal efforts, and plan future development to maintain Hood River as a desirable place to live. Well-planned development, transportation routes, and green space as the city expands on the west side and into the Urban Growth Boundary will be vital.

Traffic and Transportation

Safe and effective transportation routes for cars, bikes, and pedestrians need to be prioritized as the city continues to develop, including the expansion of safe routes, bike lanes, and well-connected trail systems. This will be especially important in areas where major transportation arteries are limited and/or traffic risks are high. I look forward to the results of the Transportation Growth Management study as a good starting point for these discussions on the westside.

Growth

Projected population growth will continue to strain the housing market, as well as increase demands for city services. The city has begun planning for this future through the Housing Needs Analysis and they are working their way through the three strategies identified to meet the projected housing needs for the next 20 years. The city should also begin looking at likely infrastructure needs and costs now to help plan for this future.

PERS

The projected increase in PERS costs over the next three bienniums is daunting. The city is planning ahead for these cost increases and budgeting accordingly, but the long-term reality for the city’s budget is that these significant costs will take funding away from current services. While our public employees deserve good benefits, the PERS deficit is unsustainable. As such, the city should do everything in its power to help Salem find new solutions.

Tourism

Tourism has both positive and negative impacts, so a balance needs to be found between the needs of the tourism industry and other economic sectors, as well as between visitors and local residents. Discussion should look at creating transportation routes/methods that safely funnel visitors into/through town without over-taxing our transportation arteries, developing methods to help cover the costs of increasing EMT demands, and ensuring local residents/employees are not priced out of services and recreation areas.

Public safety funding

Public safety, fire, and emergency services should be some of the highest priorities for a city to provide to residents. Hood River’s police and fire departments are currently underfunded and therefore under-staffed. Hood River is in a much better financial situation than when staffing cuts were enacted, so serious consideration should be given to increasing funding, if doing so wouldn’t risk the city’s financial solvency and/or if additional funding sources can be identified.

Describe your stance on the local marijuana tax option coming before voters on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and explain how the city should regulate businesses that take part in the emerging marijuana industry:

I support the 3 percent local marijuana tax option. The current city council has proposed using that tax revenue for public safety and/or education purposes, which would help increase funding to our underfunded police department. I think the city should leave regulation of marijuana businesses up to the state and OLCC.

Summarize Hood River SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)?

All voices in the community need to be engaged in the process of planning for the projected future needs of residents at all income levels.

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Mark Zanmiller

Mark Zanmiller

Hood River is truly a special place and that as city residents and advocates, we have the responsibility to build on what we have. On council, I have been an independent, active participant and strong advocate of finding creative solutions to our challenges. Resident and pedestrian for 25 years.

What are your top three goals if elected?

My goals are to see completion of the housing strategy regulations, and adopted trails, open-space and parks plan, and to encourage increased public participation.

What is the role of the City Council?

Our roles are to set policy for city functions, define priorities for staff (limited bandwidth), and to provide an important communication channel for citizen interaction.

Name one un- or under-funded program or project you would promote as member of council, and why.

I will promote allocating resources to complete the full set of policy and planning steps to implement our housing strategies while the iron is hot.

State your stance or concerns about the following issues:

Affordable Housing

We have housing needs for residents at every income level. In 2015, we finished the Buildable Lands Inventory and a solid housing strategy, which I fully support. In 2016 we have spent time on STRs, a lower income partnership opportunity, and have just started work on a 400-plus acre west side rezone. I am excited to get work done on Strategy 1 — encouraging smart density while maintaining focus on our quality of life amenities.

Economic Development

Our local economy is one of the best in the State of Oregon. That said, we have a complex, interconnected environment which impacts our local economy. The city plays an important role. Housing, development regulatory environment, infrastructure build out, and city services all facilitate a healthy business environment and all need to be continuous improvement. I have worked in our local aerospace cluster for 25 years and can see issues from multiple perspectives.

Traffic and Transportation

Traffic has definitely become an issue over the years and we do suffer a bit from our successes as a destination city. There is real work being done: The west side rezone, traffic signal discussions with ODOT, etc. I will champion and facilitate alternate forms of transportation, building and encouraging use of trails and bike paths. I have been blessed with being able to walk to work for 25 years (almost 15,000 miles within the city!).

Growth

I like the growth of Hood River — it brings in new blood and helps us be a dynamic, exciting place to live and work. The other edge of the sword is reflected in all of challenges described in this interview: housing, traffic and transportation, impacts on staff and services, etc. These are the issues that are fascinatingly hard to solve and that we get to wrestle as a community, city staff and council.

PERS

Though PERS does significantly impact our city budget and what services and new projects we can support, it reflects a deal the collective “we’’ made with these important community members — so I do not begrudge them or the requirement to pay for it. I do hope our state legislators can find an equitable and mutually agreeable solution that would reduce the burdens on all of our local government budgets.

Tourism

I also like the dynamic that is brought to town by tourism. Visitors do understand how special this place is and sharing it with them drives our downtown and waterfront for a growing percentage of the year. I understand the fear of being “loved to death” and frustrations with traffic and bigger crowds — these things do have to be addressed (see other answers) and we will continually improve to do so.

Public Safety Funding

With growth and tourism, come impacts on our city services. Our police and fire professionals do a great job and should be applauded. Council needs to be aware of the increased stress on these departments and needs to address them as part of the city budget process. Don’t forget that there are also significant impacts on public works (streets, sewer water, and parks) and the planning department which manages this growth. It does not get easier!

Describe your stance on the local marijuana tax option coming before voters on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and explain how the city should regulate businesses that take part in the emerging marijuana industry.

I am glad that recreational marijuana is now coming into an open, regulatory environment — much better than the black-market. Council adopted language so that the added 3 percent tax in Hood River will be dedicated to the public safety and education. I hope that the ballot measure will be approved.

Summarize Hood River SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)?

S: Dedicated staff, active, engaged population

W: Never enough time/money

O: There are always brass rings to be grabbed

T: Complacency, playing it safe



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