The current session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, which opened last week, will be driven by the need to adopt a budget, according to Rep. John Lively, who briefed the Springfield City Club on January 19. Rep. Lively said that as the session opens, it appears that the state will face a deficit of more the $500 million. While that number is somewhat artificial, because it is based on extrapolating current spending and revenue estimates, the deficit is likely to get worse because revenue estimates are based on assumed population growth and recently Oregon’s population has declined. That shift can be critical for a state like Oregon which is heavily dependent on income taxes for revenue, he said. The challenge is compounded by the fact that Oregon has a new governor: Gov. Kotek is still reviewing a draft budget and it will not be available until February 1. Already, Rep. Lively said, there are requests for billions of dollars in new funds. There are requests for $800 million in additional spending for K-12 education and higher education institutions are seeking multiple billions of dollars in new funding. While all the requests, he added, are for good things, all the need simply cannot be met. Although the legislative policy committees may seek to fund many of these alternatives, the need of the Ways and Means committees to assure that the budget is balanced may leave many of these needs unfulfilled.
The 2023 session is, for the first time in three years, being held within the Capitol building. After two years operating remotely because of the pandemic, legislators are now able to conduct hearings in person and meet in session on the floor. Even though the legislature is once again meeting at the Capitol, there is much that is new about how the public can interact. Most of the capitol is closed to the public for renovation and seismic upgrades and those who wish to participate in the legislative process must adapt to some new methods of operation. More information on that topic can be found online at the Oregon Legislative Information Service (OLIS). Two important links discuss how to submit testimony to the Legislature SUBMIT TESTIMONY. and how to attend committee meetings remotely ONLINE VERBAL TESTIMONY. Even the most minor details of changes can be important. Rep. Lively, who is now serving his sixth term in the legislature is now representing District 7, which covers much the same geographical area as did his former district 12. The significance of the detail is that even his phone number has changed. Since phone numbers are assigned based on the district number, he now can be reached at 503-986-1407.
This session has an unusually large number of new legislators. Rep. Lively said that 21 of the 60 members of the House of Representatives have never served in the Legislature and even more are not familiar with how the legislature operates in the Capitol. Rep. Lively observed that over two-thirds of the members of the Economic Development and Small Business Committee on which he serves, are new to the legislature.
The highest priority policy issues for this session will probably not come as a surprise to Oregonians according to Rep. Lively. He said that housing and homelessness is high on everyone’s agenda. Climate change has been a major issue at most sessions in the recent past and will be again. There was significant funding for behavioral health initiatives in the last session, and there will be efforts to sustain that going forward. Everyone, he said, is dissatisfied with what is happening in K-12 education. While he said the Student Success Act approved in the last session has done some good there are still difficulties in how a student’s progress is being evaluated. Expansion of broadband service will also be a priority as the Legislature works to assure that federal money becoming available is effectively applied in the state. Likewise, federal money to expand American production of semiconductors will become available this year and the legislature must develop a way to effectively use it.
Turning to his personal priorities for the session, Rep. Lively first mentioned the work he is doing to create a conversation on how to develop and implement Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities rules, an area where he is working closely with Springfield officials to develop a better solution than the one size fits all that has emerged from the Department of Land Conservation and Development.
Rep. Lively also is interested in raising the threshold at which the Oregon Estate Tax begins to apply. At $1 million. It nis among the lowest in the nation. He would like to see the threshold raised so that it affects fewer people, noting that even a modest family that owns a $500,000 home (not unusual in Oregon at present) could find itself subject to the Estate tax.
In response to a question, he said he will be working to develop legislation which can ease the burden on constructing affordable homes by providing state support to encourage cities to reduce or eliminate system development charges on affordably priced homes. While he said Springfield is moving in that direction on its own, the SDC funds that are foregone are needed to assure that infrastructure can be built to support development. While the charges don’t have a major impact on higher cost homes, they can be a real impediment to developing lower cost housing.
Rep. Lively was asked about legislative steps that might be taken to deal with recent initiatives approved by the voters. On the health care initiative, he does not expect significant action. While the measure enshrines in the constitution the right to heath care, no funding was supported. He noted that Oregon actually has a fairly good system of health care but that to make it completely universal would require billions of dollars that simply do not exist.
He also said that Senator Prozanski, whose district now includes Springfield, will be looking to how to implement Measure 114 in a way that is consistent with the will of the voters and the constitution, but that it is not likely that much will be finalized while current litigation is pending. The legislature will, he said, be asked to provide funding for expanded background checks.
Finally, when asked about the status of the Road User Fee project he said that the work ODOT has done has clearly demonstrated that it is a more equitable way to fund road maintenance and operations than is the fuel tax, it now remains to aid a date by which the state will require that new vehicles be subject to the charge in lieu of the fuel tax.
In this session, Rep. Lively is serving as the Chair of the Committee on Gambling Regulation and the Chair of the Committee on Higher Education, as well as serving on the Economic Development and Small Business Committee and as an alternate on the Committee on Conduct.
For those of you who missed Representative Lively’s preview of the legislative session, the video is available on Facebook at this link: WATCH VIDEO.
What happens when you flush your toilet or let water run down the sink? Many of us don’t know, and perhaps most do not care, as long as it is gone, but management of sanitary sewer systems is one of the most critical functions in keeping residents healthy. In our area, that task is managed by the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission (“MWMC”). MWMC is the governing body for the Eugene/Springfield regional sewer treatment system and is, perhaps remarkably, a government agency with no employees that exists through the cooperation of the cities of Springfield and Eugene and Lane County.
On January 5 City Club members and guests learned how this agency manages to address the critical problem of wastewater management for the 250 thousand residents of the urban area. Our presenters were Matt Stouder, the Environmental Services Division Director in the Development and Public Works department of the City of Springfield, and Michelle Miranda, the Wastewater Division Manager in the Public Works Department of the City of Eugene. Mr. Stouder also serves as the General Manager of MWMC, and Ms. Miranda also serves as the Operations Manger of the MWMC Regional Water Pollution Contorl Facility – the wastewater treatment plan that serves residents and business in the cities and urban growth areas surrounding Eugene and Springfield.
Mr. Stouder explain that the regional system has its origins in the federal Clean Water Act passed in 1972. At that time, both the cities of Springfield and of Eugene had local sewer treatment facilities that were in need of major repairs and updating. One of the features of the Clean Water Act was that federal funds were available for sewer treatment systems, but only if they served a region not a single city. That incentive motivated the cities, with the support of the County, who was able to provide additional financial security, to form the MWMC in 1974 and secure funding for a regional plant (80 percent of the plant cost was cove red by federal funds). That plant opened in 1984 and has served the area ever since.
Now, wastewater from each city is carried to the plant, first through local sewer lines and then a series of regional sewer lines and pump stations. It is treated at the plant and the cleaned water is returned to the Willamette River, while the solids removed from the waste stream are treated at a drying facility located several miles north of the plant and then used to provide nutrients for corps like grass seed, or, more recently a plantation of over 400 acres of poplar trees which are harvested every 12 years to provide lumber and wood chips.
According to Ms. Miranda, MWMC operates and manages over $450 million in assets including, in addition to the treatment plant, 850 miles of regional sewer pipe and 49 pump stations. (In addition, each City also operates and maintains local sewer pipes and pump stations. The dividing line between local and regional facilities is that once a pipe handles wastewater from more than on jurisdiction, it is treated as a regional facility.
The Treatment plan received a new federal permit from DEQ in November. One of the features of the new permit is a new level of temperature regulation, since temperature is treated at a pollutant for purposes of measuring the pollution returned to the river at the end of the treatment process. To insure that the facility complies with the new permit, MWMC is now working with organizations Like Fresh Water Trust to plant trees along the Springfield Millrace and along the banks of the McKenzie River, from which both the Eugene Water and electric Board and the Springfield Utility Board draw water for their residents.
Other resource recovery projects are high on MWMC’s lists of current tasks. Not only do they use recycled water in the treatment process and to irrigate the poplar plantation, as well as use waste solids for the poplar farm and grass seed farms in the area, but they are also addressing the need to deal with the quantity of methane that isa natural byproduct of the treatment process. For some time, the plant has generated some of its own electrical needs by using the methane, but now they have recently partnered with NW Natural to clean methane and inject it into the NW Natural system to be available to consumers and businesses who use natural gas. Mr. Stouder said this $14 million project could generate as much as $1-2 million in annual revenue, which will provide a buffer against future rate increase once the cost of the project is recovered. He said that he did not expect the recent actions of the City of Eugene which may prohibit new natural gas connections to have a major impact on that cost recovery, since the gas in the NW Natural system could still be used in other places.
Other issues on the horizon include the possibility of additional users of the regional facility. Lane County has been studying the expansion of the Goshen area, south of Eugene, for additional industrial development. T
hat area has no sewer system and one of the possibilities is to convey the area’s wastewater to MWMC. That may raise interesting questions about whether or not to treat the area as simply a customer or to expect that Goshen will become a partner in the regional system. Mr. Stouder said that capacity would not be an issue for MWMC because the typical flow to the f=alant is about 30 million gallons per day, while the system is sized to handle 277 million. When asked about the large difference, he responded that during the winter months, because of seasonal rain, the area’s water table rises, in many cases, to ab
ove the level of the pipes. This means that ground water can flow into the sewer system and be carried to the plant through leaks and cracks made by tree roots and other defects. All of this inflow must be treated as if it is the same as residential or industrial sewage.
Mr. Stouder added that in addition to Goshen, Lane Community College which presently has its own plan, as well as Cresswell may be explore using MWMC facilities in the future.
m operated by MWMC which may well be unfamiliar is its commercial and industrial pretreatment program. MWMC works with local businesses, particularly those who use pollutants in their production activities, to eliminate many of those pollutants before wastewater enters the system. A comm on subject is the fat, oil and grease filter that typically are installed in all food production faculties to keep that mat
erial out of the sewer system where it can clog pipes and cause problems in treatment of wastewater at the plant.
Among governmental agencies, Team Springfield is something of a rarity: a gathering of multiple agencies having jurisdiction over the same geographical area to help coordinate activities and collaborate for the overall benefit of the public. The Chief Executive Officers of the Team Springfield agencies visited with City Club on December 15 to explain what the team is and how it works. At the session were Nancy Newton, Springfield City manager, Michael Wargo, Superintendent of Willamalane Park and recreation District, Todd Hamilton School District 19 Superintendent and Jeff Nelson, Superintendent of the Springfield Utility Board.
Team Springfield was formed in 1999 as an outgrowth of the visioning exercise called Springfield Tomorrow initiated by the City and involving all the governmental agencies. Since 1999 both executives and elected members of the agencies have met periodically to plan and coordinate on many projects. That 20-year history served the community well when the pandemic struck in 2020. Faced with the challenges of dealing with closures and services challenges, the leaders of Team Springfield stepped up and began weekly coordination to provide the public with common and consistent messages about how local governments were dealing with pandemic issues, as well as coordinating their activities as best they could to assure continuity of public services in the face of lockdowns and the other mandates that were imposed to fight the pandemic.
This level of coordination included developing means to respond to new mandates from the Governor’s office, sometimes when the agencies had less that 48 hours to implemented actions, the Teams Springfield agencies were still able to develop common approaches and language to assure that the public and agency personnel got consistent and sensible messages.
Much effort was also devoted to increased partnering on programming. As one example, the partners arranged for funding so that children outside the City could still receive library cards without cost to them or their parents. The agencies were also able to continue the 1Pass summer program which funded free transit cards for students to many summer activities. They also worked together to establish a public equestrian trail on property owner jointly by several of the agencies in the victim of Clearwater Park.
Recruitment continues to be a major issue particularly for Willamalane and School District 19. Most of the Willamalane positions that deal directly with the public and program participants are low paying jobs which compete with fast food companies on wages. The difficulty recruiting for these positions has forced cutbacks in some programs.
The School District faces a different problem. Before the pandemic over 30- percent of the teaching staff was eligible to retire. Many left the profession as the pandemic worsened and the district does not have a p8ipleing for recruitment from local colleges. Instead of hiring people as substitute for two years before putting them on permanent staff, the district now hires directly out of school when it can and recruits out of state as well as locally.
The agencies are continuing to work on local projects. SUB is under construction with a new substation in Glenwood to support the City’s efforts to expand development there and is working on constructing a new water treatment facility in eastern Springfield at a site adjacent to School District property as well as planning to perfect its existing water rights to the McKenzie River. SUB is also continuing to move toward supporting advance telecommunications in Springfield. In addition to using its dark fiber to support local hospitals and schools, SUB has initiated a net neighborhood project to test other providers ability to use facilities to provide improved broadband access to two neigho9rhoods in Springfield.
Holiday Giving Programs in Springfield
At the December 1 program Springfield City Club highlighted programs focusing on support for community residents. Tracy Kribs, of the Willamalane Park and Recreation District and Gabriela Commons and Julia Gutierrez of the Daisy Chain program, which supports those who are pregnant, described their efforts. YHou may view the program on Facebook HERE
Ms. Kribs focused on programs that occur at the Adult Community Center, located just north of Island Park. She emphasized four programs that provide services to senior and disabled citizens.
The largest support program she mentioned was the weekly food pantry which serves over 50 adults every week. An unusual feature of this food pantry is its support from the Burrito Brigade, a volunteer organized that rescues food from restaurants and other food stores that can still be used and distributed through the food pantry. She noted that food insecurity is a pervasive problem for seniors. Older adults, she said, are three times more likely to suffer from food insecurity than is the general population. The food pantry works in conjunction with Willamalane Community Breakfast program, which offers a once-a-month breakfast for anyone over 50. While the program, for now, remains a drive-by effort, Ms. Kribs says that Willamalane hopes to get back to an in-person program next spring. Finally, to help alleviate food insecurity, the agency also operates the local Meals on Wheels program.
Willamalane also for the second year is offering year around energy assistance, funded by a grant from Lane County, as well as providing senior health benefit assistance to help seniors navigate the complexities of Medicare and Medicaid.
Finally, she described the agencies annual giving program, which started as an effort by Willamalane employees to provide gifts to students in Springfield Schools who might not otherwise receive holiday presents, but has grown tremendously in the past several areas, particularly during the pandemic. Now, rather than operating a giving tree which many of us are familiar with, the giving program has gone digital during the pandemic and functions as an Amazon wish list. From the original effort which provided 50 to 75 gifts a season, the program grew to over 100 when the agency placed trees in many of its locations and now, with the program being fully digital, they anticipate helping as many as 300 children. They have also expanded to include disabled adults and veterans. More information can be found on the agency’s website at the Giving Season link.
Gabriela Commons and Julia Gutierrez of Daisy Chain are both fully trained doulas, but their services at Daisy chain go well beyond simply assisting at birth. The provide, at no charge support to all pregnant persons throughout the pregnancy to its conclusion, as well as post-partum services for up to a year. This includes helping the pregnant person make informed decisions about her pregnancy. They support all pregnancy outcomes whether the result is birth or some other alternative. They also provide training and support for lactation.
Gabriela said it is very important to meet their clients where they are, whatever emotional or physical state they are in. The find clients by networking with other social services agencies, by word of mouth and by being out on the streets where they can come across someone who is pregnant or someone who knows another who needs support during a pregnancy.