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New councilors reflect on first year leading Pendleton government

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on January 16, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on January 16, 2018 10:41PM

Mayor John Turner gives the Pendleton City Council’s 2017 performance a B-.

Turner expects that grade to grow by the end of 2018, but he said last year was spent laying the groundwork for the new-look council’s fresh set of goals instead of achieving them.

“Give us until 2018 to crow about anything,” he said.

Between the start of 2016 and 2017, five of the nine seats on the council turned over as incumbent retirement and resignations gave way to new faces.

Four out of the five new faces — Turner and councilors Jake Cambier, Scott Fairley and Dale Primmer — talked about their first full year in office and some of their expectations going forward.

Turner pointed to some of the successes the city had in 2016, like a $14.9 million loan from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that the city is using to repair and replace its water infrastructure.

While Pendleton public works was forced to punt street repairs last year to take care of the underground water infrastructure, the city was able to use the loan to begin replacing the miles of century-old water lines that run through the town.

Turner was also encouraged by the increased activity at the Pendleton airport and was confident that the city would surpass the $257,000 it had budgeted for Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems rental and services revenue. Through December, the test range has generated $87,505.

With increased demand for the range’s services, Turner said the city is applying for a $3 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to bolster the airport’s infrastructure.

Despite the progress made this year, many of the council’s goals — infrastructure, economic development, land development and housing — remain up in the air.

Turner was doubtful the city had reached its goal of building 50 housing units in 2017, but city data shows that 55 houses were built last year thanks to a 26-unit multi-family housing splurge in December.

The mayor was much more keen on 2018’s prospects, referencing the 20-unit first phase of a planned 100-unit apartment complex at Pendleton Heights, 10 single-family homes at Sunridge Estates and other smaller projects.

Turner said Pendleton is still lacking a large-scale development from a large developer, but the demand remains.

“The history of this town is that everything sells and everything rents,” he said.

Streets will also be another hot topic for 2018.

The city’s current $781,000 budget is slowing the degradation of Pendleton’s road system, but isn’t stopping it. While city officials are expecting an increase in the state’s gas tax to add another $200,000 to the budget, the council has to figure out how to increase the street budget to $1.1 million to stabilize road quality.

Although it didn’t make the council’s top four goals, the council spent much of 2017 trying to improve council communication and city customer service.

Fairley helped develop the council’s “communications bureau,” a group of councilors that go to various groups and clubs and talk about city issues on a regular basis. He said the council is a natural “convening authority” to talk about community problems.

“It’s surprisingly challenging to communicate complex issues to a broad community,” Fairley said.

Even though it might be challenging, the councilors said they’ve encountered strong support and have changed some minds, an important factor in helping them pass a $10 million bond for a new fire station last May.

This kind of direct contact with constituents created unexpected benefits.

During a door-to-door campaign for the bond, Cambier said he and Turner met a man who was being billed for both his own home and an attached apartment that was no longer occupied, a fact that was becoming more cumbersome as the city is in the midst of a water rate hike.

Camber said they put him in touch with the city, who were able to solve the problem.

Primmer reflected on some of the tough decisions the council made in 2017, extending all the way back to the first meeting.

In closely contested votes, the council approved funding the Pendleton Downtown Association executive director position for one year and agreed to begin enforcing the nuisance ordinance against old city hall.

Both issues are still ongoing, with the downtown association now pushing for a more permanent source of funding from the city.

Either way, Primmer said the council’s future decision could be met with derision: approve funding and be accused of funneling money toward an organization friendly with the city or deny it and deal with assertions that the city is letting the downtown area die.

Although the councilors said they don’t operate in lockstep, they’re generally agreeable with one another. Turner said the council has “cohesiveness” and a “sense of unity.”


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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