Chamber gets permission to use grant funds for operating costs

By Sean C. Morgan
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon City Council agreed Wednesday evening to allow the Chamber of Commerce to use funding allocated to its grant program to offset revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to pay for chamber operations.
The city annually gives $35,000 to the chamber to pay for operations and $50,000 to administer as tourism grants. The funding is derived from the city’s transient occupancy tax, which is primarily paid by visitors staying in local hotels.
With the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, occupancy tax revenues have fallen 80 to 90 percent, said Interim City Manager Ron Whitlach Wednesday evening during the council’s regular meeting.
City management worked with the chamber to modify the contract to allow the chamber to use the tourism funding to cover operating costs during the next two quarters.
Councilor Rebecca Grizzle suggested the chamber and city could look again at the situation at the end of September, when there will be more information about where the economy is headed, and negotiate something that works for both parties.
As the chamber’s executive director, Grizzle abstained from voting on the addendum to the contract with the chamber.
Present at the meeting were Grizzle, Michelle Steinhebel, Mayor Paul Aziz, Jason Bolen, Karin Stauder and Robert Furlow. Wayne Rieskamp was absent.

In other business, the council:
♦ Approved a new three-year contract with Morley Thomas Law for legal services.
Morley Thomas has provided legal services to the city since 1988. Among those services, Morley Thomas attorneys serve as the city’s prosecutor in municipal court, attends all City Council and Planning Commission meetings, prepares and reviews ordinances and provide legal advice on city matters to the mayor, council, city manager and department heads.
The proposed contract increased the retainer for Morley Thomas from $13,000 per month to $17,000 per month. It also increases the hourly rate from $175 to $200 for services outside the retainer.
The compensation increase is based directly on the addition of office hours for the firm at City Hall and at the Justice Center, said City Attorney Tre Kennedy. Attorneys spend a minimum of four hours per week for meetings and drop-in questions during the office hours.
♦ Agreed to sponsor the 2020 application for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant on behalf of the Linn County Housing Rehabilitation Program.
Lebanon has participated in the program since 2003 along with Brownsville, Halsey, Harrisburg, Scio, Sweet Home and Tangent.
Under the program, low- to moderate-income homeowners may take out loans to pay for safety and habitability improvements to their homes, such as basic plumbing, electrical, roofing, weatherization and structural repairs.
The loans are paid back when properties are sold.
Of the grant, $100,000 is not intended for loans. Instead, it is intended as a grant program for owners of manufactured homes in parks.
The sponsoring city rotates each year when the Linn County Housing Rehabilitation Program applies for the grant. Last year, Sweet Home was the sponsoring city.
♦ Heard the mayor proclaim June 1 through June 7 “as the Lebanon Annual Strawberry Festival, a time for the City of Lebanon to show their fondness and memories of the Strawberry Festival.”
Due to COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, Aziz said, the activities for this year, the 111th anniversary of the festival, have been altered.
“The community of Lebanon can show their support and celebrate Strawberry Festival week by decorating their homes and businesses during the week of June through June 7,” he said.
♦ Approved an agreement to exchange $204,000 in federal gas tax funds for $191,000 in state funds to be used for the reconstruction of Walker Road in association with the Westside Interceptor project in 2021. The Westside Interceptor project will expand the capacity of the city’s sewer system.
The exchange decreases the “strings attached” on the federal funds by substituting state funds, Whitlach said.
♦ Approved a public utility easement on a portion of Mill Street as part of a multi-family development at the northern end of the street.
The city is abandoning that portion of Mill Street to provide the owners legal access to their property, Whitlach said; but to complete the adjustment, the city needs to retain an easement primarily for an existing power line running overhead in the area.
♦ Approved a favorable recommendation to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission of the renewal of 46 liquor licenses throughout Lebanon as part of the annual renewal process.