At the start of 2017, then-city councilor Mark Ribich told the East Oregonian that Umatilla was declaring itself “open for business.”
The results of the city’s campaign for economic growth have been mixed. On the one hand, Ribich himself told us recently that he was disappointed by the trickle of new businesses that have since set up shop downtown. Only two new businesses have joined the city’s chamber of commerce this year, he said, and one was not located in Umatilla.
While Umatilla’s commercial growth has been halting, however, its industrial and housing growth have not. Amazon continues to boost the city’s tax base as its valuable data centers filter onto the tax rolls, and the city is experiencing booming housing growth that city manager David Stockdale predicts will result in 100 new housing units a year for the next five to seven years.
This presents an opportunity and a challenge for Umatilla.
New homes in city limits need water, sewer, electricity, police service, fire service, roads and classroom space for any children who might move into them. But they also increase the city’s tax base. The important thing is that the new revenue is used wisely.
Umatilla seems to be on the right track. They put out a request for proposals in February for a consultant to do an in-depth analysis of the best structure for system development charges and utility rates, so that the city can raise the revenue it needs to put in the infrastructure to support new growth. They are also moving up the timeline of some projects, such as upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.
Too often we have seen cities in our coverage area kick the can down the road on infrastructure projects for decades, creating a crisis for a future city council to deal with and a future set of residents to pay for with a sudden, steep increase in their utility bills or other costs. Umatilla has an opportunity now to use its increasing revenue to set the city on a more sustainable path for maintaining its infrastructure.
Repairing wastewater treatment plants and replacing old pipes in the ground aren’t as exciting as cutting the ribbon on new parks and statues, but it is sometimes the most important work city leaders can do. The more superficial livability projects do help draw people to a community, but nobody is going to want to move to a town that is trucking in bottled water for residents.
There will always be grants available for the “fun” projects, as seen by the recent generous donations from the Good Shepherd Community Health Foundation and Hermiston Kiwanis toward new features for Umatilla’s Kiwanis Park.
As Umatilla continues to grow, we hope they are thoughtful in their spending, keeping their eye on the projects that will secure the best future for the community.