Oregon East Symphony

The Oregon East Symphony performs a virtual concert at the Vert Auditorium in Pendleton on Oct. 24, 2020. The Vert Auditorium is among city facilities slated for improvements.

PENDLETON — Thanks to the most recent round of federal stimulus, the city of Pendleton’s budget is likely to rise again this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city has proposed that the 2021-22 general fund, the city’s only discretionary fund that pays for services like police, firefighters and parks, be set at $20.3 million, a 14% increase from the previous fiscal year. The city’s total budget — proposed at $105.2 million — also represents a slight increase from the prior year.

City Manager Robb Corbett attributed much of the growth to the $3.4 million Pendleton expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion federal government stimulus bill meant to provide economic relief to people and entities affected by COVID-19.

While the city is still figuring out what parameters there are on how to spend the money, a preliminary plan would spend some money covering financial losses from the coronavirus and on a tourism initiative. But the lion’s share of the money is being allocated toward facility maintenance.

Corbett and other city staff have long spoken about the need to address the million of dollars of deferred maintenance associated with the city’s buildings, and as recently as 2014, facility maintenance was a part of a city bond proposal. With the federal stimulus coming in over the next two years, Corbett is again trying to put some dollars toward facilities.

Included with the budget is a laundry list of repairs and improvements that could be made with the extra $3.4 million: new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at the Vert Auditorium and the McCune Recreation Center, paying off debt the Pendleton Convention Center accumulated to pay for a new roof, and new cameras and paving on the Pendleton River Parkway are just a few of the projects being proposed.

The Vert is receiving a significant amount of attention from the city, with the complex slated to receive more than $500,000 dollars in repairs to cover painting, sound system installation and chair and carpet repair costs.

Despite all the investment, Corbett noted at a Tuesday, May 4, budget meeting that the Vert rented out its space sparingly throughout the year.

“It’s a facility that’s near and dear to the community that doesn’t make any money,” he said.

Corbett said he had assigned Pendleton Convention Center Manager Pat Beard to work on increasing activity at the venerable venue.

Beard, along with Economic Development Director Steve Chrisman, is a part of a group of tourism interests that is trying to get startup funding from the stimulus for a new tourism initiative — Pendleton Comes Alive. Under the proposal, the group would spend the money on creating new tours and bars around town in addition to installing people dressed in Western garb in the downtown area to interact with tourists.

“We’re going to create a summer road map to make Pendleton a tourist destination,” Corbett said at the meeting.

Corbett clarified that the group was initially asking for $250,000 a year for two years, but after identifying some areas where they could save money, they agreed to a $400,000 offer.

While the American Rescue Plan is providing Pendleton’s facilities a shot in the arm, it isn’t meant to be a sustainable source of revenue. Corbett said he’s discussed the issue with the city’s department heads, including the idea of using money that’s been unused at the end of the fiscal year and funneling it to a building maintenance fund.

The budget committee will hold several more meetings to finish reviewing the budget. The Pendleton City Council is expected to adopt the 2021-22 budget on June 1.

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