Digging into Roots of Infrastructure Issues

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New Bend assistant city manager pushes early community interaction

Newly installed Bend Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore is relishing the challenge of tackling tough infrastructure issues as part of a key operational role with the municipality.

Skidmore, who during the last year enjoyed a successful stint as the City’s first Bend Business Advocate – promoting business interests together with the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board (BEDAB) and helping bolster the city’s image in this area – was selected from three finalists after fending off competition from 124 other applicants for the ACM role.

He arrives with an impressive background in both the public and private sector, having assumed a variety of roles in the civic and consulting arena after graduating with a degree in Political Science from the University of Oregon and obtaining a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Portland State University. Prior to switching to Bend, he was the Community Development and Planning Director for Jefferson County.

The hiring is welcome news for fellow staff members, particularly for Bend City Manager Eric King, as the assistant position had remained unfilled for the last four years following budget cuts.

King commented, “The City is on a critical path right now, with significant infrastructure needs that will affect economic development and land use in Bend.

“Jon has the skills and professionalism to help me and our management team ensure that these projects are done in the best possible way for ratepayers and taxpayers in the city.”

After announcement of his selection, Skidmore said, “This is a very inviting challenge and, being trained as an urban planner I am excited about the opportunity to work with the community – one which grew at such a pace that it outpaced infrastructure needs – on crafting sustainable and affordable solutions.

“There is no shortage of work to be done and we must understand as a community that we have some real challenges with infrastructure, particularly in terms of water, sewer and roads, with some tough decisions to make on priorities and the best way forward.

“In my advocacy role I promoted ‘soft programming’ processes to assist businesses, but if you don’t have fundamental infrastructure in place, planned in a sustainable way, future economic development is going to be stymied.”

Skidmore says King has referred to the second-in-command position as akin to a “Chief Operating Officer” and sees a large part of his remit as aligning the planks of Public Works, Community Development and Economic Development towards achieving common goals.

In light of the handling of previous infrastructure projects, and recent controversy over the upcoming Bend Water Surface Project which could end up being the most expensive public works project in the city’s history, Skidmore acknowledged that the City needed to “do a better job” of working with the community to understand the scope of infrastructure problems and the best way to identify priorities and implementation methods.

To that end, initially in looking at the Collector System Master Plan (CSMP) which is in need of a five-year update to reflect current realities, Skidmore is spearheading formation of a ‘stakeholder group’ representative of a wide range of community interests to help steer the best path forward, and to act as a something of a template for how other major infrastructure questions can be addressed, in a similar way to the successful BEDAB initiative in the business sector.

He said, “Certain areas of town are facing severe sewer challenges and we are conscious of involving the community in helping us make decisions on where priorities lie.

“The stakeholder group will be made up of a broad cross-section of the community that understand the relationships between economic development and infrastructure and can help disseminate information.

“It is a major commitment, with some fairly intense meetings, but is an opportunity for people to help shape the future of their city and direct the focus of aspects of public improvement planning and implementation.”

The City is teaming with the Bend Chamber of Commerce and the Environmental Center to select members of a stakeholder group to guide the City’s sewer master planning efforts, with the CSMP used as a guiding document to govern development within the city limits for decades.

The group will be charged with tasks such as: identifying community priorities; reviewing and evaluating short and long term collection system needs; establishing rate tolerance to tailor short and long term goals; considering financial, engineering, economic development, growth management and political implications of various alternatives, and providing a recommendation regarding a preferred approach to the CSMP.

Good communication skills and expertise is sought in areas including engineering, finance, the environment, land development, law, economic development, community development, land use or other relevant experience.

The commitment is expected to be substantial and involve monthly (perhaps bi-monthly) meetings for at least one year. Interested parties are encouraged to complete the Advisory Committee Application found at www.bendoregon.gov/committees, with submission to the City by 5pm on Friday, May 25. Applicants must be residents of the City of Bend.

Skidmore added, “One major aim is ‘early and often’ as far as giving people more opportunity to discuss problems and potential solutions. They could, for example, look at options other than the gravity-based methods, or explore other on-site perspectives in terms of sewer treatment.

“The community has a lot of committed members that are a great resource and can help us help them understand the challenges involved.

“Many people may not realize that we have a federal mandate regarding the surface water project or that we have aging infrastructure in need of replacement, and if we don’t articulate and understand the problems as a community, the discussions about how to solve such problems become harder.

“Involving the community is a major priority, and we are looking to set the template for other similar approaches.”

On a macro level, Skidmore said he is working on processes and procedures to strengthen communication and “align moving parts” in coordinating the Community Development, Public Works and Economic Development arms of the city towards achieving long term goals and delivery of a consistent message.

He is also working on more routinely meeting with Oregon Department of Transportation regarding roads issues that have region-wide impacts, adding that state highways are the “lifeblood” of many communities and need to be protected to foster commerce and convenience.

In that direction, county commissioner Tammy Baney is leading efforts to explore criteria such as trip time targets rather than the traditional intersection focus regarding capacity and improvements on the main North-South Highway 97 route.

Skidmore said other issues such as revisiting the Urban Growth Boundary expansion question are also fast approaching on the horizon, which would again require prioritization and decisions on the best overall compromise for future growth.

He added, “We want to foster more interaction both inside and outside City Hall on important long range, or ‘generational’ programs to encourage a more cohesive approach.

“My appointment will also free up Eric more to focus on broader ‘visioning’ in terms of policies and strategic thinking.”

City of Bend Communications Manager Justin Finestone said King realizes the value of Skidmore being familiar with most of the major public works projects in the City, adding, “Jon’s fully up to speed on those, and can really help take a lot of work off Eric’s plate, because Eric’s been going 100 mph, 24/7 pretty much doing this alone.

“This is a perfect time for him to get someone help him navigate those waters. This is really a good fit for both of them and it’s going to serve our management team, all of us are going to benefit from this.”

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