Bend City Forecast Outlines Objectives


How to navigate towards council goals including undertaking major infrastructure projects and move toward improved public accountability were some of the hot button topics discussed at the Bend City Forecast held at the downtown Oxford Hotel recently.

Mayor Jim Clinton and City Manager Eric King briefed business and community leaders on progress to date and future objectives – such as achieving a sustainable funding structure – during the annual event organized by the Bend Chamber.

Thorny issues such as the handling of the multi-million dollar surface water project were aired, with city leaders conceding that earlier community involvement in the discussion on ways forward would have been preferable.

Mayor Clinton said priorities for the City included a focus on infrastructure planning, support of the economy and strategies to secure financial stability.

He added: “In the previous boom, we were not able to keep up with the consequences of growth. Now we are in something of a catch-up mode and are dealing with complex and expensive needed infrastructure projects.

“We also want to do whatever we can to stimulate our local economy. Each of us has significant business exposure, and this is an important topic for us as councilors.”

On public involvement in decision-making that affects the community, Clinton commented: “I think there is now a marked difference in that we are more actively looking at ways to engage sectors of the community in decisions.

“For example, recently there was a controversial issue regarding an increase in the room tax; which is effectively the only sales tax around here. We asked for members of the community and stakeholders in the room tax issue to try to work out a compromise, which they did and now the matter is making progress toward a final decision.

“New initiatives will get us to that point. When we reach out to the broader community we come up with better decisions more reflective of the general consensus.

“I am energized by this city government, reflecting what a wonderful and dynamic city we have, despite the ongoing challenges we face.”

King said one of the main messages to be conveyed is that there are definite signs of recovery in Bend, including in terms of job growth and permitting activity.

The city was also in a unique position at this juncture to “connect infrastructure projects with economic development”.

He pointed to innovations undertaken to streamline municipal processes, adding: “On the permitting side of planning, circa 2007 we processed around 1,000 permits a year. We have now returned to approximately those levels with half the staff, which is a testament to the better efficiencies we have put in place.

“Steps have included electronic plan review, employment of mobile technology and training staff in latest practices as the interactive face of the city, and we certainly recognize the talent we have within the city administration.

“Reduced planning fees also serve as a signal to economic development.”

Regarding upcoming Urban Growth Boundary expansion discussions, King said: “This is setting the table for growth. It’s not just a line on a map; it is about a cohesive plan for growth in the city.

“This conversation is very important to what Bend looks like in the future, and we don’t want to get into another bubble situation.

“We need a balance and to get the public involved in the front end of discussions. If you don’t get the community involved at the front end, you will pay for it on the back end.

“We are due to present a work plan on the UGB in September. There are no doubt technical issues for instance regarding infrastructure placement, but this will present an opportunity for input on how we grow.

“This is certainly not a dying city and we see the link to growth, economic expansion and prosperity.”

The total number of firms in Deschutes County declined during the Great Recession, but King reported that as of May there was year-on-year growth of 2,100 jobs compared to 700 for the previous 12-month period.

There would still need to be an additional 9,000 jobs created to reach pre-recession levels, but there were undoubtedly “bright spots” on the horizon.

He added: “We have replaced a lot of construction jobs that left and the number of firms in that industry has reached pre-recession levels. Allied with that, there is a prevalent entrepreneurial spirit in the city and permitting activity showing signs of recovery.”

On the residential front, around 800 single family permits were being processed annually compared to 150 during the depth of the recession.

King added that Bend’s annual tax rate was the lowest among comparable communities, which presented “structural problems” with the city budget.

In the context of economic development, King said advancement of the Oregon State University-Cascades campus into a four-year university was a “huge focus”, and the city had demonstrated its commitment to that cause by setting aside $250,000, with half the sum donated to the capital campaign and half to help with infrastructure planning, including streamlining land use entitlement processes to help smooth the way for expansion.

The city has also developed a memo of understanding on how it can partner to help address OSU-Cascade’s short and long-term needs, and is also working through associated transportation issues, including transit service.

One of the largest projects under city infrastructure management auspices is the expansion of the waste treatment plant, pegged at around $38 million. King pointed to the degree of innovation employed, including using technology to scale the project in a more incremental approach, especially in response to vocal public comment.

He said: “I am happy to say it’s a new day. The community wants to be involved and we have to open up our processes.” Part of that commitment included the setting up of a Sewer Advisory Board and a technology optimization program in an effort to spread out infrastructure costs.

On the streets side of the equation, King applauded the county’s willingness to share resources regarding contracting in projects ranging from paving and chip sealing to the major Murphy Crossing refinement plan, particularly welcome as there were currently “more infrastructure projects than ever” which were seen as essential to open the way for further economic development.

Regarding public safety, in light of restrictions on funding including property tax limits, sustainability and growth plans were “not in sync” as service demand was growing faster than revenue, so options needed to be explored as to how business could be conducted differently.

King hailed two “proactive leaders” including the fire chief, who promoted a “quick response unit” now handling a large proportion of calls in more timely fashion and resulting in an 80 per cent reduction in costs for maintenance.

The police chief is also utilizing technology effectively and brought in a crime analyst to handle resources and available tools more efficiently.

King commented: “This allows us to get back to community policing, for example, in the downtown foot patrol which is helping mitigate behavior such as aggressive panhandling, and which has received positive feedback.

“We are seeing implementation of technologies differently to put more resources on the street.

“There has also been a change of culture within our organization, including development of a performance management system containing unique language where we reward for performance relative to goals.”

In the spirit of more open communication, King said the city was employing tools such as social media to keep in touch with the community, as well as an interactive blog,, which acts like an online meeting, adding: “We want to create a system where people feel part of their local government as part of our striving to be a more public organization.”

In response to a question on the status of the Juniper Ridge development, Clinton said some 300 acres had received land use entitlements, with 70 “shovel-ready” acres already on the market, but the city was still seeking a master developer to adhere to the original vision.

He added: “We never intended for the city to be the developer; it was intended to be privately developed where the public interest is the focus.

“This can be the engine that provides further impetus for the economy and I hope to see Juniper Ridge become the world-class project originally envisioned.”


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