City Council Float Public/Private Partnerships at Financial Strategy Meeting

CityCouncil2017
L-R: Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell, Councilor Justin Livingston, Mayor Casey Roats, Councilor Bruce Abernethy, Councilor Barb Campbell, Councilor Nathan Boddie, and Councilor Bill Moseley. Courtesy: City of Bend.

Originally published in the Bend Chamber Business Edition – March 23, 2017

If three words could some up the Bend City Council’s Financial Strategy Meeting Wednesday, it might be Money, Money, Money… With the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) approved last fall, Councilors are in the midst of how to move forward with the “opportunity” and “expansion” areas identified in the plan. In total, more than 90 procurement decisions will fall in the Councilors lap within the foreseeable future. But according to council and staff, there’s not enough funds in the city coffers for all the projects.

Bend City Councilors and city staff gathered at the Municipal Court building on Wednesday for their second financial retreat since coming into a new biennium and installation of new Councilors. Before presentations started, Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore made the following comment to the assembled Councilors, “To achieve our goals, you have to think creatively about resources.”

Utilities – Water, Sewer, & Stormwater
The first part of the agenda was focused on water – potable water, sanitary sewer, and stormwater. Presented by Utilities Director Paul Rheault, Engineering & Infrastructure Planning Director Tom Hickmann, and Senior Policy Analyst Gillian Ockner, the team foresaw continued work on maintaining the three different systems.
When it comes to water, the city of Bend is in good shape. On the other end of the water equation – sewer, Bend is facing challenges brought on by growing pains. Hickmann mentioned the city is struggling when it comes to the sewer system, noting there are currently limits on the flow. Several of the city’s over 400 pump stations are working at or near capacity.
He also highlighted how sewer system issues may have a negative effect on building projects in the core, where the city is unable to give developers assurances the system is capable of supporting new projects. City staff is concerned with solving those issues and hopes to find alternative funding mechanisms in the form of public / private partnerships.
The city will continue to raise utility rates to fund ongoing operation and maintenance. Within this biennium budget, city staff is proposing a 2% increase in water rates, 3% in stormwater rates, and 6% in sewer rates, clearly showing where the city faces challenges.

Transportation Is Key
The rapid growth has also exasperated the many issues with Bend’s transportation system. Coupled with general maintenance of existing city roads and the UGB expansion mainly taking place in southeast Bend, the city has challenges ahead.

The city currently has approximately $20 million in the transportation reserve. The proposed six-year budget adds another $15 million in the form of incoming System Development Charges (SDC) for a total of $35 million.

Presented by Growth Management Director Nick Arnis and Tom Hickmann, city staff laid out three options for solving the transportation issues.
Option one extends the Empire corridor towards Butler Market Road and the north expansion area, which is slated for an estimated 214 jobs and 1099 housing units. The projected cost is $20 – $30 million.

Option two is the Murphy Road extension that will connect the west part of the city with the SE Bend expansion areas, mainly the “Elbow” and “Thumb, slated for an estimated 2660 jobs and 1660 housing units. The project estimate ranges between $27 – $40 million.

The “Blended Option” is the third, which sets aside money for complete designs of the Empire and Murphy Road extension ($4 million each), safety projects throughout the city, and the completion of two west-side projects to service the core opportunity areas, the 14th Street corridor and Galveston. It also sets aside money for building out the city’s bike boulevards. The cost comes in around $23 million with approximately $12 million in reserves to potentially be used for public / private partnership projects.
After the presentation, King asked Council for a straw vote in order for city staff to start initial planning. Campbell stood firmly behind option three. Councilor Livingston also selected option three with reservation as did Boddie, Russell, and Abernethy to varying degrees. Mayor Roats also highlighted the current Murphy Road bottleneck, the car/railroad crossing which impedes traffic movement during train switching operations.

According to councilors, the major caveat with option three was the missed opportunity to rapidly expand into the SE Bend expansion areas with potential job creation and housing projects at stake.

Councilor Moseley promptly suggested option 4 that would divert funds from the downtown core projects (Galveston and 14 Street) and put the money towards finishing either Empire or Murphy Road. In the end, the councilors galvanized behind “option 4,” with Murphy Road being the priority and the hope to attract public / private partnerships to fund the expansion.

Grow Bend and Preserve Community Values
Bend City Planning Manager, Brian Rankin took Councilors to task to implement their own goals, namely Goal 1 (Execute a growth plan that preserves community values) and Goal 2 (Move people around Bend quickly, safely, and reliably).
Rankin underscored that growth plans are not simple projects. Aside from water, sewer, and transportation – presented during the first part of the Financial Strategy Meeting, Councilors also need to make decisions which include bringing in the expansion areas into the master plan, solving housing issues, and funding transit.

Who’s Going to Do the Job?
In order to progress on the lofty goals set by City Council, several new positions need to be filled. After the Recession hit in late 2008, the city has managed on a scaled down work force, but with the recent growth spurt, the city staff is feeling the pinch. Even with work efficiencies brought on by office automation, Hickmann echoed comments made earlier during the meeting by both Skidmore and Rankin: “We’re understaffed”.
Rankin’s presentation pointed to at least seven new positions needing filled. The specialized nature of those positions could take many months to fill, adding another layer of complexity.

It’s a Process Moving Forward
Several times during the meeting, Councilors made remarks acknowledging perceived frustration among Bend citizens with the somewhat slow process. In the end, Councilors were left with many decisions ahead. The next step in the budget process will be the April 5 City Council meeting, followed by a formal decision in May, and a formal adoption of the budget in June.