The Hermiston City Council is hoping to see a “reset” with its advisory board for the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center as discussions about an RV park and other future projects have gotten bogged down.
“Initially the committee had good forward progress, but the last five or six months it feels like we are just spinning our wheels,” said councilor John Kirwan, who is a council liaison to the committee.
During Monday’s city council meeting, city manager Byron Smith suggested he discontinue his position as the city’s staff liaison to the committee and instead send EOTEC manager Al Davis. He also suggested the city council spend at least two upcoming work sessions discussing a draft strategic plan for EOTEC and adding language that would give the EOTEC advisory board more clear direction for the council’s “plan and vision.”
“Then the committee has something to work from,” he said.
The city planned to build an RV park at EOTEC in time for this year’s Umatilla County Fair as a way to bring in revenue year-round to support the operation of EOTEC. But stakeholders, including the Farm-City Pro Rodeo board, expressed opposition to the proposed location near the rodeo arena, and the city’s planning commission put a halt on any further construction at EOTEC until the city submits and gains approval for a parking plan.
The city subsequently submitted a parking plan at the end of February, but it was denied by the planning commission after commission members expressed concerns it would not adequately serve the need for parking during the fair and rodeo.
In October the city awarded a contract to Knerr Construction of Hermiston to design and build the RV park and additional office and storage space for Umatilla County Fair staff. On Monday Smith said the city needed to consider coming to an agreement with Knerr to fairly compensate them for their time so far and then let them know that if the city resumes the project in the next few years they would be re-hired.
He also said the city should ask the EOTEC advisory committee to finalize a recommendation for the location of the RV park, which they have discussed in several meetings but not come to an agreement. Kirwan said he isn’t even sure EOTEC’s stakeholders want an RV park.
Councilors said they supported the idea of having Davis take over for Smith on the advisory committee. Mayor David Drotzmann said he was concerned at how much time the city’s highest-paid official was spending on EOTEC when there were larger city projects that also needed his attention. Jackie Myers said she felt the EOTEC committee wasn’t listening to Smith and was getting “bogged down” as a result.
“If Byron makes a suggestion it doesn’t get very far,” she said.
They also supported the idea of discussing EOTEC’s strategic plan and guidance for the advisory committee during a work session preceding their April 22 meeting.
On Monday the city council also adopted a policy concerning water and sewer leaks.
Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said recent increases in water and sewer rates had caused more complaints to city hall and he felt it was important to have a policy in place for what happens when a leak causes a resident to see a huge spike in their bill.
He proposed the city give a customer credit for 50 percent of the water wasted for one billing cycle, providing they could show an invoice or other proof they had resolved the problem within 30 days of being notified. For example, if a leak or burst pipe caused a customer to use 20,000 gallons of water instead of their usual 10,000 gallons, they would get the cost of 5,000 gallons credited to their next bill.
Several councilors shared their own experiences with leaks. Myers said a leak in an irrigation pipe under her driveway caused an $800 bill one month. Doug Primmer said a leak at his house once caused his family to use 250,000 gallons of water in a winter. And Kirwan said his dog once pulled down a water stanchion and flooded his yard with 15,000 gallons of water.
Drotzmann was opposed to the idea, pointing out that the wasted water was still a cost to the city’s utility system.
“It wasn’t our fault, it was you and your dog’s fault, but we’re all paying for it,” he said in response to Kirwan’s story.
Lori Davis said it seemed like a “nice thing to do” for residents who might struggle to pay and other councilors agreed, passing the new policy unanimously.