The following are the responses to the Candidates Questionnaire for the position of Mayor of Salem. The Create Jobs PAC has endorsed Mayor Anna Peterson.
Responses are complete and have only been edited for spelling and grammar.
Mayor Anna Peterson
Work continues to move forward on the “Salem Alternative” bridge project to help improve transportation options, decrease traffic congestion and provide an updated seismically sound river crossing. Do you support or oppose the building a third bridge in Salem? Please explain your answer.
I support the building of a third bridge in Salem, the “Salem Alternative” because it will provide relief from congestion on the two bridges over the Willamette River in downtown Salem, and because it will provide quicker more direct access from Polk County to I-5 and I-5 to Polk County. Downtown congestion directly impacts businesses because drivers will not stop to shop or eat when traffic is heavy as they “lose their place in line.” Population increases forecast for the Salem region indicate that when the third bridge is built, it will be heavily used. In the event of an emergency, or disaster, the third route across the Willamette will reduce the likelihood of people being stranded on one side of the river or the other for long periods of time. In the event of an earthquake, the newer bridge will be less likely to collapse or be rendered unusable.
Voters passed the $99.8 million Streets and Bridges Bond in 2008 to help repair bridges and roads, ease traffic congestion and build sidewalks. Due to favorable economic conditions for contracting costs, the City of Salem expects to have a remaining balance in the millions of dollars. In your opinion, how should remaining money as part of the bond be spent?
The voters passed the Streets and Bridges Bond in part because they were assured that the items on the list would be completed and that other road and bridge repair needs would only be funded by the bond if there were money left over. The City of Salem, with citizen input, prioritized the streets and bridges needing repair, and determined the amount of money to ask voters to agree to. The list ran long and cost more than the City Council deemed would be prudent to request. The Streets and Bridges Bond Committee has been recommending items on the list but unfunded and City Council has voted to add these additional projects for repair. I agree with this process, and will continue to support the additional repair projects recommended by the Streets and Bridges Committee.
The City Council recently considered a proposal to implement a streetlight fee in Salem to help raise revenue for the City budget. Citizens spoke out passionately against the fee and the City Council decided not to pursue it. Based on current City of Salem budget numbers and projected shortfalls, do you believe the City has a revenue problem, a spending problem or a combination of the two? Please explain your answer.
The City of Salem has a revenue problem. Despite cutting employees and expenses for several years, the City of Salem continues to face a growing gap between revenue and expenses. The rising PERS costs, increases in insurance, fuels, and equipment, and union demands for benefits will outstrip city resources beginning next year. None of these increases can be reduced to any great degree by the City beyond what we have already been able to do. The only answer is to reduce personnel, which will require reductions in city services far beyond what we have been doing since 2009.
The State of Oregon is working to sell the northern 44 acres of the Oregon State Hospital. This is a unique opportunity to take land that runs a deficit for the City of Salem and transform it into a space that generates tax revenue. There will certainly be an element that will be vocal about wanting as little change as possible. What is your opinion on the best use of this property?
The best use of the 44 acre parcel on Center Street being sold by the State of Oregon will be a private sector mix of single and multifamily residential units combined with a mix of retail and services to compliment the size and economic level of the surrounding area. I am not in favor of converting the entire 44 acres into a large urban park, nor do I want other State of Oregon buildings to be constructed on that site. The value of the property would increase our tax base and begin to provide some relief from Salem’s burden of State of Oregon property off the tax rolls if it were in private ownership.
What do you consider to be the most pressing issue facing Salem and how should the issue be addressed and solved?
The most pressing issue facing Salem is the revenue shortfall described in answer #3. Starting next year, city revenue will not keep pace with the rising expenses. Programs will need to be reduced or eliminated. And after that first round of cuts, we will face more every year because of the costs associated with employee benefits and other increases for items like fuel, insurance, and PERS. As we begin the budget process for 2015-16, I believe that the City Council will have to have some very serious discussions with residents about which City services should be eliminated or severely cut. We will be at the point when just reducing some FTE will no longer be an answer. The solution that some suggest is to go out for an Operating Bond. I do not favor that approach, because of compression. The only bright spot will be if property values, and more property added to the tax rolls, will result in increased revenue for the City of Salem.