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City Council candidates outline visions for growth, more

Editor’s note: Lebanon has three City Council seats on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election. Only one, for Ward 3, will be contested.

Incumbent Wayne Rieskamp will be unopposed for the Ward 1 seat, and Karin Stauder is unopposed in Ward 2.

Three candidates, Duston Denver, Greg Nervino and Michelle Steinhebel, are running for the Ward 3 seat. Consequently, we are focusing our coverage on that race. Below is a summary of positions taken by the candidates during a Lebanon Chamber of Commerce forum held Sept. 25 at the River Center. For additional information on Rieskamp and Stauder, a good place to start is www.ci.lebanon.or.us/cityclerk/page/official-2018-     voters-pamphlet.

Candidates were asked two questions that they were given previous to the event, then two more generated from audience members.

We have summarized general agreement between candidates for each question, when such exists, then detail any unique perspectives communicated by each candidate.

Following, presented alphabetically, is information about each candidate and their responses to those questions.

Duston Denver

 Duston Denver is a local business owner who has been heavily involved in the local AYSO soccer program (10 years), Rotary Club, the Boys & Girls Club and as a volunteer in local schools. He also is a former  city planning commissioner.

A graduate of Lebanon Union High School (the final class before the name changed) and Linn-Benton Community College, he is a former IT analyst for the City of Lebanon and, through a public-private partnership with the city, helped develop and build the city’s wifi system. He also was instrumental in developing the soccer fields at Cheadle Lake park.

Denver, who will be 42 on election night, said he wants to join the City Council because “together, I believe, through good stewardship, we can all continue to make Lebanon a friendly and thriving community.”

He said his top goal, if elected, would be to make sure the council is looking ahead, long-term, “at infrastructure and prioritizing small portions of those projects every year – managing growth and development to help the city continue to thrive long-term.

He said what sets him apart from other candidates in the race is his experience as both a city employee and as a “private citizen who has worked on projects with the city staff.”

“I believe this provides me with a unique perspective that my opponents don’t have. It’s important that everyone knows my belief that we all need to be good stewards to our community. I have made a commitment to our community to be a good steward.

“My hope is that I can make a large enough impact that not only my kids, but others, will want to stay and make a positive impact as well.”

Greg Nervino

 Greg Nervino is a 22-year resident of Lebanon who arrived in 1995 to work with Consumers Power.

Over the years he has been active in leadership in the Lebanon Optimist Club, Chamber of Commerce, Lebanon Community Foundation and served on the negotiating committee that procured Cheadle Lake for the city.

“I came to this community to help build up some of the infrastructure,” he said. “I spent the last 20 years or so doing that. A lot of volunteerism and I’ve seen a lot of progress. I want to see that progress continuing to happen. I love this community. You’ve got a great community here and it’s only going to get better.”

Michelle Steinhebel

 Michelle Steinhebel served on the Lebanon 2040 Task Force, which, she said, “heightened” her interest in running for City Council.

Steinhebel, 34, is a native of Lebanon, a graduate of Lebanon High School, LBCC and Oregon State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Currently, she is  public affairs manager for COMP-NW medical school. Previous to that, she has been an editor at the Central Oregonian and Lebanon Express newspapers.

She is a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Lebanon Schools Foundation and the Lebanon Optimist Club, Strawberrians and Lebanon Booster Club.

Her previous experience in government includes service on the 2040 Vision Task Force and Steering Committee, and involvement in Public Advisory Committee and the Transportation System Plan.

Her top priority, if elected, she said, would be completion of the 2040 Vision plan.

She said  she would like to see additional progress made on the goals of the plan, particularly the Arts and Culture section, and more focus on sections dealing with jobs and growth, and the downtown.

She said what sets her apart from the other candidates in the race was her involvement in the 2040 Vision process and her involvement in other community organizations.

She said her experience as a journalist gives her a strong belief in “government transparency and open communication.

“As a journalist, I covered the city during some of the harder times and I understand the problems of the past and how they can affect our future.

“I live, work and, with my husband, we are raising two young children in this town,” Steinhebel said. “I am vested in seeing our city thrive.”

Albany, Adair and even Corvallis are seeing significant residential and commercial developments moving forward, but developing our prime commercial industrial land  is not competitive in the market because of necessary wetland mitigation. Residential development on the southwest end of town will require significant investment in the wastewater collection system. What should be the city’s role in financing these projects? Another URD, or something else, or nothing?

Candidates agreed universally that development of the Westside Interceptor Wastewater Collection Line and figuring out solutions to the “wetlands issues” are necessary to Lebanon’s growth. All agreed that growth is necessary for Lebanon’s health as a community.

Denver said the infrastructure north of town has contributed to the development of Lowe’s, COMP-Northwest, Veterans Home, Boulder Falls hotel and other smaller businesses and housing. Wetlands issues are inhibiting development in the west and south parts of town.

“The Westside Interceptor Wastewater Collection Line, in particular, was a huge issue back in early 2000 when I was on the Planning Commission.

“I believe the city should be taking a proactive role in mitigating wetlands issues and completing infrastructure in southwest part of town.”

He said this should include setting money aside in each annual budget for infrastructure improvements and to provide assistance to property owners for wetlands mitigation.

An urban renewal district would provide funding, addressing these issues should be a higher priority in each annual budget. Also, the city needs to “proactively” reach out to the county and state to seek economic development money to create “shovel-ready sites.”

“A plan needs to be developed for taking on these issues one small bite at a time over a long period, while we continue to work on finding ways to fund these projects,” Denver said.

“This is very critical, important infrastructure that needs to be put in place before any more building can happen on the south end of town,” Steinhebel said. “Without that, we’re kind of stuck.”

Other avenues, in addition to lengthening the westside interceptor pipe, should be explored, which could be done through a URD, she said.

“The key thing is, not growing is not an option.” Growth must happen in a “measured, responsible fashion” and the westside interceptor and other infrastructure are key to that.

The wetlands issue is important for the north side of town, Steinhebel said

“Doing nothing is not an option. All strategies should really be on the table to solve these two issues.”

“All these issues are complex, but they’re not new,” Nervino said. “When I came here 22 years ago, we were facing the same thing in other areas.

“My forte was more or less power infrastructure, but we faced the same things, the same problems, the same issues. We mitigated them successfully.”

The wetland issues are doable, as is the westside interceptor, for which there is no one fix, he said.

“You see the results all around us today. This was a different community 20 years ago and it will be a different community in another 20 years. We will beat the challenges; we will find the answers. They can be complex, but the problems can be met.”

The City is working on implementing the Lebanon 2040 Vision and Community Action Plan. Please review the 2040 Plan in terms of what, in the plan, you would prioritize, what you would remove, if anything,  and what you might add, as well as how you would propose to pay for it.

Steinhebel supported the existing plan even more forcefully, saying she thought the question “implies that things can be cut from this plan.

“I do not feel that is the case, having worked on the task force that guided this planning process.”

She noted that, in the process of creating the plan, 1,100 Lebanon residents “gave their opinion on what we want Lebanon to look like in 2040.” The plan is a result of feedback from “a wide swath” of the community, she said. “It’s our community’s document.”

“These are not my priorities; they are the city’s priorities and they are the community’s priorities. Cutting anything, changing anything from this plan, I would really discourage that.”

Steinhebel said the plan should be a “guiding force” for the council in making decisions for the city.

If anything should be prioritized, it should be public safety.

Nervino called the 2040 Plan a “very complete document, comprised of the work of many of you citizens out there.”

He said the plan speaks to the arts, culture, downtown, historic redevelopment, education, public safety and other aspects of a “being a healthy, vital community” while keeping with Lebanon’s small-town values.

“I can’t add to the work that’s been done in here and I wouldn’t detract from it by removing anything from it,” Nervino said.

Denver said city staff has made good progress identifying the areas they’re responsible for in the 2040 Plan, and implementing some action items.

“What I would prioritize is identifying who’s responsible for coordinating this plan and making sure that it comes to fruition. Many of the action items in the plan don’t include the city as either a partner or a potential partner,” he said, citing the school district, the Boys & Girls Club, Linn-Benton Community College and the Chamber of Commerce as examples of such.

“Without someone to coordinate and follow up with these partners, I envision the plan only partly working,” Denver said. “The city took the lead in creating this document; I believe the city needs to designate somebody to be responsible for the implementation of this document.”

That could be added to the responsibilities of the economic development catalyst position the city is trying to fill, he suggested.

“Every part of this plan has an effect, directly or indirectly, on the economic development and it would make sense to have this person coordinating since they’re already in the budget and already paid for.”

Will development in Lebanon increase the cost of living to the extent that people can’t live here any more?  If so, what measures can be taken to help families stay in town?

Denver called the current housing market “crazy,” jokingly saying that he was concerned his kids might not be able to move out.

He noted that options are limited for those seeking housing, adding that more apartments and houses would bring prices down, but as soon as more are available, more people move in and prices go up.

“We need to be able to bring in family wage jobs” by continuing development with “shovel-ready sites so people can afford to live here in Lebanon.”

Nervino said the rising cost of living isn’t new.

“Really, the solution to that is continuing with our economic development goals, bringing more industries to the community, more jobs, and give people the ability to pay for all of this new infrastructure,” he said.

Steinhebel said one answer is to find ways to create more housing and development in Lebanon.

“Housing prices are high,” she said, adding that services are available to those who are in need or are threatened with losing their homes.

One step, she suggested, would be to “make services we already have in town more widely known. Keep people in their homes.”

“I don’t think any of us here have a single-handed strategy to lower housing prices in Lebanon. But if we can continue with services and connect them with resources to keep them in their homes, that’s a way to address this issue.”

What do you feel is the one change that needs to occur in Lebanon?

Steinhebel said she would rephrase the question as “the one priority we really need to focus on in Lebanon.”

She agreed with Nervino that “we live in great community, a comfortable community.

“We’re small but we’re growing and we’re growing at a measured rate and that’s very beneficial to the livability of our community.”

She said solving the wetlands issue should be a priority, but it would need to be solved through a partnership with other governmental entities in finding solutions and lobbying.

“Finding a solution to the wetlands issue is important because once we can do that, we can entice more industrial companies to come to town,” she said, noting that the north end of Lebanon is “severely underdeveloped” and “could be providing us with solid family wage jobs.”

“What is the solution to solve that wetlands mitigation issue? I don’t have an answer, but it needs to be a priority and it was a priority in the 2040 Plan. I think that would be the biggest change that really needs to occur, or the biggest priority that needs to set for this City Council.”

Nervino answered that he believes the need is for “just an overall abiding community feeling that we are something special.”

“In 22-plus years I have lived here, it has been a welcoming, moral community.

“This is a fabulous community. It is only going to get better with time. I’ve seen so much improvement since I’ve worked and lived here – many, many great changes.”

Denver joked that he would prioritize “transforming Lebanon into a soccer community from a football community,” drawing a guffaw from the audience.

He said “a lot of little things, I think, could be changed,” but he said his biggest priority would be the city’s infrastructure.

“We’ve been spending a lot of money on parks and beautifying streets and getting things up and fixed, he said, adding that he thinks infrastructure needs such as existing water and sewer line repairs.

“Infrastructure is expensive, so we need to plan long-term for that. We need to prioritize those infrastructure things a little higher, so we can take a small bite out of that every year rather than ignore it, ignore it, ignore it and have to raise everybody’s rates really high because it’s got to be fixed right now.”