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New rules would allow more food trucks, ‘pod’ in Hermiston

The Hermiston City Council discussed food trucks, a $4.5 million loan, the resignation of a city councilor and city finances Monday.
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on July 24, 2018 5:14PM

Alex Benitez, left, and Javier Diaz fill orders in a Tacos Xavi food cart on Wednesday in Butte Park during the Fourth of July Celebration in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Alex Benitez, left, and Javier Diaz fill orders in a Tacos Xavi food cart on Wednesday in Butte Park during the Fourth of July Celebration in Hermiston.

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City staff are drawing up changes to the city’s mobile vending rules and looking at options for a food truck pod after the Hermiston City Council decided it’s time to allow more food trucks in town.

The council directed staff to bring back an updated ordinance for a vote at the next meeting that would increase the number of licenses for mobile vendors from the current cap of three.

The number of basic year-long licenses available would be raised to six, with an option to appeal to the city council for an additional license if the six are already in use. The city would also add temporary 90-day licenses, which would be available for food trucks but also allow for push-cart operations like a hot dog stand. And city planner Clint Spencer said the license cap would not apply to public property, meaning a food truck “pod” (a gathering of mobile vendors in one place) on city property would not count toward the license maximum.

“We’ve had people express interest,” Spencer said of the pod idea.

He said staff were looking at the city-owned lot on Orchard Avenue across from the post office for a possible pod, and would like to put out a request for proposals to have a third party manage the pod instead of the city, similar to how Mitco Investments is running the farmer’s market this year.

Mayor David Drotzmann said he liked that idea, so that people could bring in some different business plans for the council to consider.

“We’re flexible, if it’s reasonable and affordable,” he said.

The recommendations were based on the results of an online survey that had more than 900 responses. Eighty-six percent of respondents were in favor of increasing the number of mobile food vendor licenses, and even higher percentages of people were in favor of the other suggested changes.

Water tower financing

On Monday the city council only had four of its eight members present, plus the mayor, which gave the council enough of a quorum to conduct some business but not enough to pass an ordinance. Two ordinances on the agenda — a new noise ordinance and an ordinance regulating accessory dwellings — were tabled until the council’s next meeting on Aug. 13.

The council was able to authorize the mayor and city manager to sign a $4.5 million loan, however.

The funds will be used to build a 1 million gallon water storage tank northeast of town off Punkin Center and add approximately two miles of transmission mains. According to information provided by the city, the project will increase the city’s water storage capacity by 25 percent and make housing development more affordable on more than 300 acres of developable residential land.

Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said the 15-year loan will be paid off much earlier than 15 years because the city and Umatilla County have pledged to each contribute their $500,000-per-year payments in lieu of taxes from Lamb Weston’s expansion (which should start in 2019). The county will contributed $2 million over four years under that plan and the city will cover all expenses beyond that, estimated at about $2.5 million.

County commissioner George Murdock couldn’t make the meeting due to illness but expressed in an email to the East Oregonian that the county was “solidly behind the project” that will use Lamb Weston funds to promote economic development in the community where the food processor is expanding.

“Both the City and the County clearly identified housing as the major issue, which is why we were able to forge an agreement that as we see it will begin with infrastructure and capacity and then lead to hundreds of new homes,” he wrote

Councilor resignation

One absence on the council dais Monday was a reflection of the resignation of councilor Clara Beas Fitzgerald, who submitted a letter of resignation earlier this month. She stated in her letter that she had become overwhelmed with her duties, including a full-time job, various committees and caring for an ailing family member, and decided to step back early from the council to make way for someone who could give the position more of their time.

The council voted to accept her resignation, and Drotzmann said he knew that Beas Fitzgerald would continue to represent the city of Hermiston well on other committees she is on, including the Oregon Commission for Women.

“We’re always sad to lose a city council member that has been a good, hard worker for the city,” he said.

City manager Byron Smith said usually the council would take applications for two weeks and then have a committee review them before choosing someone to fulfill the remainder of the term. However, in this case there are only about five months left in the term, and voters already chose Roy Barron to fill the seat for the new term starting Jan. 1. As a result, he suggested voting to suspend the council rules and name Barron to fill the remainder of the year.

Councilor John Kirwan said he wasn’t comfortable suspending the council rules with so many councilors absent, and the council agreed to hold off on a vote until the next meeting.

Smith said he had met with Barron and Barron had said he was willing to fill the seat early. The two had another meeting set for Barron to take a tour of city facilities and get up to speed on city issues.

City finances

On Monday the council also listened to an informational presentation by city finance director Mark Krawczyk about the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which ended June 30. He said the city had until the end of August to settle outstanding bills but not much should change.

Krawczyk, who started with the city in December after former finance director Amy Palmer left, said he was extremely impressed with the city’s handling of its finances.

“I would put our results at year end — regardless of size of operation — against anyone in the country,” he said.

The city’s investments are performing well, it brought in more revenue than projected and every department in the general fund spent under what was budgeted.

“Everyone is under budget. Nobody is over that’s made up for by somebody that was under,” Krawczyk said, noting that was extremely rare for a city. “... That tells me we have an exceptional staff.”

The general fund’s ending balance came to about $3.37 million — well above the $1.7 million minimum the city has set, despite the city shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars extra in 2017-2018 toward the new senior center and for equipment at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center. Smith said the city couldn’t afford to spend like that every year but had the money available to spend down some of the general fund this past year while still staying comfortably above the minimum reserve.



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