The City is asking for another year of EID funding.

On Monday evening, June 10th, the Salem City Council will vote on whether or not to collect the final year of the Economic Improvement District(EID) assessment on downtown property.  The EID assessment is paid by downtown property owners to provide services such as First Wednesday, visitor maps, promotions, sidewalk cleanliness, hanging baskets, newsletters, holiday decorations, etc., throughout downtown.

In the fall of 2011, the City of Salem advertised for a downtown organization.  After a lengthy process, the City awarded the contract to the Salem Downtown Partnership (SDP).

After the contract was awarded, the city asked the downtown property owners to renew the EID assessment for an additional 3 years with SDP being the contract provider.  The EID was renewed and the SDP received it’s first quarter funding in February 2012.

One year later, at the February 11, 2013 City Council meeting, councilor Chuck Bennett made a motion to change the EID ordinance to allow the City to take control of the EID money.

Immediately after the February Council meeting, the City Manager terminated the Salem Downtown Partnership’s contract.   There was no survey to assess how satisfied the downtown community was with the SDP and it’s programs, no violation of the contract, and no  warning the city was in any way unhappy with the SDP.  Needless to say, the board was stunned.

The SDP board hired a local attorney to help them better understand the city’s desire to terminate a seeming successful organization.  The resulting report showed the most likely reason for the termination was the City wanted to eliminate any organized opposition to the installation of parking meters downtown.  In fact, the City used the same tactic in 2005, when it terminated the Salem Downtown Association, just prior to implementing 2 hour parking downtown.

On Monday night, the City Council will vote whether or not to collect the final year of the 3 year renewal period.  We cry foul play!

The EID was renewed with the understanding an independent organization, voted in by the downtown community, would be receiving the EID funds.  But the City changed the language after the election to allow the City to take the money.   This isn’t what the downtown property owners voted to support.  This is a violation of public trust.

Now the City Manager has hand-selected a few individuals to determine which programs will continue to receive EID funding.  The meeting dates/times are not posted, no agendas are available, and who serves on the committee is not publicly known.

Each year, before it drafted its annual budget, the SDP provided an annual survey to assess which programs were most valued. Everyone downtown was invited to participate in the survey. The survey helped guide which programs received funding.  The final budget was mailed to all downtown tax payers and publicly approved by the board at the annual meeting.

All meeting dates, times and locations were posted on the SDP website prior to any meeting.  Everyone was welcome, and encouraged, to participate in meetings.  The names of current SDP board members, and the current budget, were always available on the SDP website.

Now we have a secret committee, hand selected and led by the City Manager, determining how our funds are to be spent.   The City waited one year after the renewal vote to change the language in the ordinance so the city could take control of the money.  Our City Councilor, Chuck Bennett, refused to intervene on behalf of the downtown.

We should ask City Council to stop collection of the EID assessment as of June 30, 2013.  We no longer have any accountability for how the funds are spent, as was promised in the EID renewal information.  There is no contract between the City and downtown tax-payers for responsible use of the funds, no budget approval method, no reporting required, and no accountability.

If you would like to send an email to city council, asking them to stop collecting the EID assessment as of June 2013, please use this email address:

CITYCOUNCIL@CITYOFSALEM.NET

The above address will deliver your comment to all 8 city councilors and the mayor.  If you would like testify at the City Council meeting Monday night, show up at 6:30 to sign up to speak.  To read the staff report on this issue click this link:

http://www.cityofsalem.net/CouncilMeetingAgenda/Documents/272/3.2a.pdf

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Things got heated up and uncomfortable

On Monday, May 14th, the Editorial Board of the Statesman Journal (Dick Hughes and Kathy Goss) interviewed the City Manager and Mayor about the end of free parking in downtown Salem.  Clearly the city brought in the big guns, but it didn’t help.  The big guns attending were:

Doug Rux – Urban Development
Chuck Bennett – City Councilor
Jennifer Martin – Downtown Advisory Board
Tyler Jackson – Jackson Jewelers/Parking Task Force

Oh my gosh, where to begin on the half truths and tangled lies in that discussion.   The bout didn’t end in a knock out, but the score definitely was Editorial Board 15, City 0,or maybe a minus number.

Although parking meters are a tool to manage parking, there was no actual discussion about parking.  The City made it’s usual push for more revenue and used the Parking Task Force of hand picked ringers to try to convince Dick that somehow the combination of parking meters and additional revenue are connected, and that no one clearly cared about the downtown customers or businesses. . . .    What a train wreck.  At one point Dick was making a point (a rather good one I thought) and Chuck Bennett kept interrupting him.  Dick finally fired off ” Then you can just leave”.  .  .  Real fireworks from mild mannered Dick.

Kathy Goss even got some great points in – but the City just tried to gloss over their bad deeds with city-speak.  Doug Rux is incredibly accomplished at city-speak, he never really answers the question, but it sounds like it he means it, and he uses a lot of words.  Kinds of lulls people into a short coma.

If you want to see the City make a desperate plea for more money and get caught with their hand squarely in the cookie jar – watch the video.

State Street Trees

The City of Salem has issued a permit to US Bank to remove 5 Japanese Zelkova trees along State Street because they are buckling the sidewalk.

In 2010, the City’s Urban Forester indicated the tree roots could be pruned enough to prevent the sidewalk damage, and save the trees.  The City’s Shade Tree Committee denied the City’s request to remove the trees.

In 2012, US Bank requested permission to remove the trees and the City’s Shade Tree Committee denied the request again.  US Bank “verbally” appealed the committee’s decision.

In January 2013, the Shade Tree Committee held a second public hearing where a number of opponents testified, and a petition signed by 22 downtown business owners and employees was presented opposing the tree removal.  The Shade Tree Committee voted to deny the request for removal.

US Bank appealed the decision to the Director of Public Works, who has overturned the Shade Tree Committee’s recommendation.  A permit has been issued for US Bank to begin removal of the trees as early as April 10th.

Parking meters downtown?

At the City Council’s last Parking Task Force meeting, the city staff stated the only solution to the deferred maintenance problem in the downtown garages is to install pay-and-display meters on-street downtown (but leave the garages free for customers).  The fee is estimated to be $1.25 per hour.

What effect will paid, on-street parking, have on downtown?

To read more about the Council’s Parking Task Force, click here.  You can attend the last Task Force meeting on Tuesday, April 2 at 7:30 AM in the Anderson Room at the LIbrary.