Only a handful of small-town leaders from around Umatilla and Morrow counties took advantage Thursday of the fifth rural symposium in Pilot Rock.

 But several of about 20 city managers and administrators who gathered found solutions to some pressing problems.

Unlike previous symposiums, at which issues were mostly talked about, participants this time broke into small groups, attacked a single issue and developed a plan to solve the problem. State and local economic experts and state bureaucrats were on hand with advice.

Bruce Sorte, an Oregon State University economist, and Art Hill, vice president of the Blue Mountain Community College economics department, advised participants to determine how their projects are feasible, financially and politically; whether they know the regulations involved; and how to make them become realities.

Irrigon City Manager Jerry Breazeale wanted to bring a grocery store to his town.

“The concept is the private sector isn’t doing this, so what can the public sector do to step in,”?Breazeale said. 

Sorte and Breazeale developed a plan to form a local grocery co-op through community meetings and funding from a ballot measure, and then measure success when the grocery store created jobs, increased local property values and attracted other businesses.

Ukiah city recorder Donna Neumann said her town must increase its sewer and water rates in order to take advantage of a government loan to pay for improvements. With Paul Koch, former Pilot Rock city manager and now a consultant who ran the symposium, Neumann developed a plan to gather information about the current billing system, meet with the citizens to teach them about the problem, then develop a new plan for the rate, which may include a base rate and a clearer delineation of a commercial rate.

Boardman City Manager Karen Pettigrew worked with Scott Fairley, the Eastern Oregon coordinator for Gov. John Kitzhaber, to tackle the problem of workforce housing in Umatilla. The town runs into a chicken-and-egg scenario.

“If people really wanted to live there someone would have built houses,”?Pettigrew said. “But If I had a house you could look at you might want to live there.”

They decided to look at community funded housing, or look for leadership from businesses in the Port of Morrow to encourage their employees to make their homes in Umatilla.

Since 2009, Pilot Rock has hosted and organized the meeting of rural minds several times a year. Koch, the city manager for 18 months ending in December 2010, helped launch the symposium and returns to facilitate it with Pilot Rock Mayor Virginia Carnes.

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