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Mayor, city manager address ‘state of the city’

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Mayor Paul Aziz and City Manager Nancy Brewer shared “state of the city” addresses during the Dec. 2 Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Forum Lunch.
“Things are running really smoothly,” Aziz said, “so the new mayor [Kenneth Jackola, elected in November] and council will have a great opportunity to move forward and not have a lot of obstacles, other than the normal ones you have.”
Aziz added that operations have returned to normal post-COVID-19, including the reopening of Lebanon Senior Center services. The city’s LINX Transit system exceeded 30,000 rides in the fiscal year and could be seen all over town. He highlighted the Lebanon Public Library’s StoryWalk and noted that its summer reading program exceeded 19,000 hours, making it the highest number of hours read logged.
Work on the $21 million Westside Interceptor increased traffic flow through town, but the project, which will bring sewer lines to the city’s west side, has been on a to-do list since the early 1990s, he said.
“It’s an important part to be able to bring in more development and also to help with the existing development we have because the sewers on that side of town are quite full and we do not want them to get worse,” Aziz said. “There are several developments that are waiting on this to be put in, and they won’t be able to be put in until this happens.”
City staff have taken over management of the wastewater treatment plant following a lawsuit against Jacobs Engineering, which promised Lebanon (as well as Albany and Millersburg) a system that would reduce solid waste. However, it didn’t work. The city will use the resulting $12 million settlement to remove the system and provide improvements related to new regulations by the Department of Environmental Quality, as will be addressed in an updated master plan in late 2023.
“There’s always constant regulations on the water and the water treatment plant,” Aziz said. “It’s always changing. One year we’re in compliance, and the next year we might not be in compliance because of a new law.”

Mayor Paul Aziz cites some current work being undertaken in Lebanon.

He praised the IT department for its work providing remote communications through laptops and Zoom with city staff and the public during the pandemic. He also noted its efforts to implement cybersecurity protocols.
“There have been some cities that (hackers) have gotten into their systems,” he said. “They take over the system and basically hold it hostage until a certain amount of money is paid. It’s happened to hospitals and a lot of corporations, and it’s happening to cities.”
The city is currently working on a housing production strategy and economic opportunity analysis, which will benefit Lebanon families in need of affordable housing. Brewer, during her later address, said that zoning and land-use changes should be expected from the analysis that might make more housing and low-income housing available.
“I know traffic is getting worse,” Aziz said. “There are just more people in town and it’s just one of those things we have to work with. It’s a difficult thing because we want to have the growth, and the growth is really important, but we need to do it balanced so we don’t do it too fast.”
Brewer announced the acquisition of a 10-acre parcel on the east edge of Cheadle Lake Park and the receipt of a $2.6 million state grant for accessibility improvements at the park. Survey and design work is underway to include a permanent stage, restrooms and disability-accessible parking and pathways.
“We are lockstep with Strawberry Festival to make sure there will be no construction disruptions,” she said.
The City Council recently approved the purchase of the former National Guard Armory building on Oak and 5th streets to become part of Public Works, and the purchase of five acres north of River Park from the City of Albany. Build Lebanon Trails is already working on plans for a trail on the new Cheadle Lake and River Park properties, and extending the Old Mill Trail through Gill’s Landing to River Park.
According to Brewer, the city’s finances were stable, and the last fiscal year ended well.
“Our reserves are meeting our objectives by council policy,” she said. “Seventeen percent of revenue is supposed to be held in reserves. Having reserves on-hand is always beneficial to help us get through any downfall (or recession) that might happen.”
Meanwhile, the city continues to work on reducing its debt, which is in large part due to a state loan for the Westside Interceptor project and the new water treatment plant on River Road.
“Building a water treatment plant costs a lot of money, but I’m super glad we did it when we did because costs would be about double that if we were to build it today,” she said.
She added that the city has worked to keep rate increases low on residents’ utility bills, despite the higher cost of maintenance supplies.
“We buy a lot of stuff as a city,” Brewer said. “We buy asphalt and chemicals and electricity, and our costs have gone up just like everybody else. So, as we try to keep our rates affordable for our customers, that means we’re able to do maybe a little bit less than we would like to (such as assisting homeowners with sewer lateral repairs).”

Aziz and incoming-mayor Ken Jackola converse at the Chamber’s forum lunch.

The city manager said she was eager to see the completion of the Westside Interceptor as well as the replacement of water, sewer and stormwater lines on 7th Street from Oak to D streets.
“It’s a failing system, the street is failing there,” she said. “The problem is what was a couple years ago about a $1.5 million project is now looking closer to $3 million.”
She also touched on the status of the Lebanon Police Department, which has seen five new hires since August. Once the four remaining positions are filled, 55% of the city’s police officers will be on probation, in training.
“It’s a little scary and it is an area of concern,” she said.
Brewer ended her address by highlighting the many activities available at the library and in the city.
“There’s a lot happening in the community to help bring people together, to talk about us as a community and how we all live and work and play together,” she said, “so I encourage people to get active and participate.”