The year is 2018, which has a science fiction kind of ring to it until you realize 2018 is now. It’s not the future anymore, it’s the present.
So before this year gets away from us and we’re staring down the barrel at 2019 (which is almost 2020!) we’ll take the opportunity to address two of the big issues that will affect our area.
Dealing pro-actively and positively with these will benefit the region down the road.
Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center
The city of Hermiston and Umatilla County, co-owners of the new event center, will be at the forefront of plenty of discussion this year. Now that the building has been constructed, long-delayed decisions about planning and cost must be addressed in 2018.
Things have gotten off to a rocky start. In the last month, the EOTEC board has been getting guff from all sides — from the fair and rodeo, from Hermiston and Umatilla County, from the city planning commission and growing number of private citizens, especially neighbors.
The realization has dawned on many — specifically on Hermiston City Council and the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners — that EOTEC is not a problem that will fix itself. And possible fixes to strengthen the event center’s financial footing will take millions of dollars, protracted oversight and longterm support.
“This is starting to be real money,” Hermiston city councilor Jackie Myers commented last week, when another round of bills rolled in.
To keep those bills from snowballing, the city of Hermiston and Umatilla County must take a more active role in managing EOTEC, and push the board to agree with outside management on a longterm plan for the facility. Perhaps a professional mediator will be useful as competing interests try to find a way to compromise.
But however progress is made, we can’t go into 2019 with as many unknowns about the future of the property as there are now.
You could probably put taxes on this list each and every year. But in 2018, they will become more important thanks to local, state and federal changes swirling around pocketbooks and business ledgers.
The feedback on taxes will come quickly. The federal tax cut pushed by Congressional Republicans and the Trump White House went into effect Jan. 1, though many will not see any changes until they do their 2018 taxes (in April 2019). Some will see changes in their paychecks come February.
This month voters have their say on Measure 101, a state issue that will decide the fate of a health services tax. The controversial tax, which raises health care costs to help insure low-income Oregonians, will be decided Jan. 23. If it falters, legislators will be sent back to Salem with plenty more work to do to balance the budget — and that may take the form of new taxes along with cuts.
And on a local level, municipalities will try to balance budgets and keep up with aging infrastructure.
Milton-Freewater voters will decide on a local option levy to support its Parks and Recreation department, everything from repairing the pool to help run the golf course. Pendleton and Hermiston residents are seeing recently passed bonds and levies on their tax bills now, including from the Umatilla County Fire District No. 1, Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton School District and more.
On the heels of a failed bid for a bond, the Hermiston School District must revisit the issue and put a question before voters that they can stomach.
And voters in both Umatilla and Morrow counties will have the choice of whether to create an Oregon State University Service District, which would collect 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to help support OSU Extension programs. Because of compression, taxpayers and municipalities will feel this differently.
How many dollars voters are willing to part with — and how higher taxes impact citizens barely getting by as is — will be at the heart of nearly all significant issues facing Eastern Oregon and its residents this year.