Tamra Mabbott will serve as Umatilla’s interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for Russ Pelleberg’s replacement.
Pelleberg resigned last week to become the new city administrator of Newport, Washington. His official last day is July 27 but he will be on vacation after July 13.
Mabbott joined the city of Umatilla in August 2017 in the newly created community development director position, leaving Umatilla County after 15 years as planning director. Her additional duties as interim city manager start July 14 and include a 5 percent pay bump for the duration. According to salary data provided by the city of Umatilla in the fall of 2017, Mabbott’s salary was $96,624 and Pelleberg’s salary was $110,000.
City councilor Mel Ray said during Tuesday’s city council meeting that the decision of who to name as interim city manager was “one of the hardest decisions I’ve made since I’ve been a councilor.”
“We looked at this from every angle,” he said.
The council spent more than two hours in executive session last Thursday after Pelleberg’s announcement and spent more time behind closed doors Tuesday night before Michael Roxbury made a motion to appoint Mabbott as interim city manager. Roxbury, Ray, Mark Keith and Ashley Wheeler voted in favor while Selene Torres-Medrano and Roak TenEyck voted against.
Earlier in the meeting, councilors approved a letter of congratulations and thanks to Pelleberg, and took the time to thank him in front of the audience for fostering new growth and change in the city during his two years as city manager. Roxbury said Umatilla has had many city managers but he was not sure he could point to one who has “moved the bar as far as you have.”
Mayor Daren Dufloth said it was appropriate that the city was discussing a large transfer of government power in the city on the eve of the Fourth of July, when the country was celebrating the freedoms and democracy that allow for such things.
Pelleberg said he would certainly be back to check on Umatilla’s progress, and that he had been proud to be able to talk of new housing in Umatilla and revenue growth without raising taxes, while getting together with other city managers whose cities struggled with those things.
“A lot’s happened,” he said.
On Tuesday the council also discussed Strategic Investment Program payments that Vadata Inc., a subsidiary of Amazon, will make to the county on three building projects. Two — in the Port of Umatilla and off Lind Road, known as the Bonney property — are in Umatilla city limits, while a third off Westland Road south of Hermiston is in the county.
The Strategic Investment Program is a 15-year incentive that communities can offer to companies looking to expand or build there. State statute dictates the first $25 million in real market value of the capital project is taxed at the usual rate. A community service fee equal to 25 percent of the project, up to $500,000, is also assessed, with more flexibility on how it is divided among the districts. Additional “annual improvement payments” can also be negotiated at company and county discretion.
Umatilla County signed a SIP agreement with Vadata in August, and the county and city have been in dispute about it since. The county negotiated a $4 million annual improvement payment, and Pelleberg claims the city should get at least half of it since two-thirds of the sites covered are inside city limits (the city of Umatilla annexed the Bonney property last year). The county, however, created a formula to split proceeds from just the two projects within city limits, and under that formula Umatilla will get roughly $1 million per year.
Pelleberg has publicly stated that Umatilla has spent $6 million in staff time, infrastructure improvements, roads, attorney fees and other expenses to accommodate Vadata while the county has spent “nothing.” A document the city provided the county in October titled “City of Umatilla investments for Vadata projects” listed $6 million for the Bonney site alone, mostly for “city share re-use system expansion” and “city share water system expansion.”
The county has questioned that number, however, and Pelleberg has not provided further information after requests from the East Oregonian for more records. In Tuesday’s agenda packet Pelleberg included a new table titled “City of Umatilla investments for Vadata projects as of 6/28/18” that listed a total of $3,126,719 in expenses, almost all of which is categorized under a water reuse project at the port site. It only lists $22,713 in “water and sewer service analysis” for the Bonney site.
Doug Olsen, the county’s attorney, said in a recent interview that as far as the county is concerned, the $4 million issue was “finished” when the city of Umatilla signed onto the main SIP agreement in August. County commissioner George Murdock said the SIP money is a “huge blessing” and will help the county balance its budget, and the community service fee will give special taxing districts a boost.
On Tuesday Pelleberg said the city was still in dispute with the county about the $4 million annual improvement payments, but recommended that the council sign a resolution supporting the county’s plan for the second tier of SIP money: the $500,000 community service fee.
The county recently approved an agreement to give up its own portion of the community service fee and divide the funds among six special districts, with about 64 percent going to Umatilla County Fire District #1. Mabbott said the city had been “informally approached” about giving up its own portion to the special districts too, but it can’t afford to do so because of expenditures made in support of the Vadata projects.
“We were not part of these discussions, for the record, but the good news is the formula is one that works well,” she said.
The council voted unanimously to support the deal but made it clear they only supported the decision on the community service fee, not the annual improvement payments.