Sweet Home Council OKs $5,000 city donation for Icebox Cookoff

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

The Icebox Cookoff drew between 5,000 to 6,000 people to the Radiator Supply House last year, and, according to organizer Will Garrett, its follow-up is expected to attract even greater numbers.

However, while the Sweet Home City Council donated $15,000 toward the summer barbecue bonanza in 2022, it voted unanimously May 9 to bequeath only a $5,000 gift this time, along with in-kind contributions, which City Manager Kelcey Young said could include additional marketing and event parking at the city’s water treatment plant and elsewhere.

Councilor Dylan Richards started the meeting by saying he wanted the city to give $15,000 again. Councilor Josh Thor-stad agreed. But Councilor Lisa Gourley made the motion for fewer funds, expressing a desire for fiscal conservatism.

“I know we’ve got some really heavy lifting to do and a lot of things coming down the pike, and trying to balance all of that is really important,” she told Garrett. “We see the potential of what your dream is. But at the same time, we need to be careful.”

Councilor Dave Trask agreed.

“We’re pushing to get our downtown stuff where we want it to be, and we’re talking about $15,000 here,” he said. “[The event] is a good thing. I just think it’s too much money [to give].”

“I think it’s great to have something that promotes our community,” President Pro Tem Greg Mahler said. “We’ve talked about tourism and what we need to do to bring Sweet Home to the map.”

However, he also argued that Sweet Home should have a formal process for every promotion that comes for tourism, cautioning against setting a precedent that resulted in another event expecting $15,000.

Thorstad – who said, “reluctantly, yes” when it was his turn to vote – explained his position.

“I think the city should do more [than the $5,000],” he said. “It’s a huge event and brings a lot of people to town, and it’s free to people that live in Sweet Home. I think the city would benefit by giving more money.”

Indeed, the cookoff is open to the public for free at 3 p.m. Friday, June 30, and 1 p.m. Saturday, July 1. Sunday, July 2, is reserved for sponsors and VIPs.

“When it’s open to the public, it seems like it’s more reasonable to give to these kinds of events,” Mayor Susan Coleman said. “I think the event is good for Sweet Home, and I think it would be helpful for us as a city to have our logo on those things.”

The cookoff was described in an April 17 event press release as the biggest barbecue competition on the West Coast, with live music, fireworks, and $40,000 in prize money, all in $2 bills.

Council member Greg Mahler, right, speaks at the City Council meeting at City Hall on May 9 as Mayor Susan Coleman listens.

Presented by Radiator Supply House and Salem-based Best Damn BBQ Sauce, the competition is sanctioned by both the Kansas City BBQ Society and The Steak Cookoff Association. It is a qualifier for the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue and the American Royal World Series of Barbecue.

The cookoff features classic staples (ribs, brisket and chicken), along with such exotic fare as a live fire demo exhibit of alligator, Barbados ram, mountain lion and both a whole steer and hog. It is expected to draw 35 pro competitors from around the country.

The inaugural Icebox Cookoff in 2021 raised $13,000, which was given as prizes to its 41 teams. Some 400 people attended that year’s barbecue, which was private due to COVID-19 regulations. The 2022 event distributed $30,000 to competitors. However, it cost $187,000 to put on and raised only $157,000, resulting in a $30,000 loss. The budget was reevaluated and dropped to $133,000 this year.

Garrett noted that a portion of that sum was raised by local business sponsors, including Ram Trucking, Karla Hogan with HomeSmart, Cascade Timber Consulting, Wendi Melcher with Cadwell Realty, O&M Tire Factory, Buck Sanitation, The Point, Fast Cash, Anderson Enterprises, Travis Luttmer with Country Financial, and Umpqua Bank.

The city’s financial support will be used only to promote the event, not as competitor payouts. Last year, the city hosted an information table at the cookoff, where staff answered visitor questions about city parks, events and programs.

Councilor Angelita Sanchez did not vote at the meeting, informing the mayor that she was unable to get off work.

In other action, the council:

♦ Unanimously approved a staff request for an additional $70,000 of contingency funds for construction of the Mahler Water Reclamation Facility Improvement Project.

The council on March 14 awarded the contract to Boede Construction of Aumsville and authorized the staff-recommended 10% contingency ($84,000) controlled by the city manager, bringing the total budget to $923,995. Since then, one city-initiated change order for $25,850 has been executed for curb removal and driveway-widening to meet fire code for permitting at the plant.

Boede and West Yost, the city’s engineer of record, have also identified necessary design changes to the facility’s mixing system and conveyor support structure. A second change order request for $68,655.54 for the mixing system is under review but exceeds the remaining contingency.

Public Works Director Greg Springman wrote in a request for council action that staff believed these changes were the result of developing the design too quickly to meet timelines, as these changes were being identified in the submittals/materials ordering and permitting stage of the project.

He wrote that more contingency funds were needed to ensure the project’s short- and long-term success, adding that staff requested an additional $70,000 in contingency funds for the current design changes and any issues discovered during installation. The director asserted that enough American Rescue Plan Act funds were available to cover the increase.

♦ Voted unanimously to award a $146,770 contract to ABC Roofing of Portland for a roof-replacement project at the Sweet Home Police Department.

“It is imperative that the roof be replaced to ensure the safety and functionality of the building,” Police Chief Jason Ogden argued in a request for council action.

The building was constructed some 22 years ago, and its roof has never been replaced.

“Over the years, the roof has deteriorated and is no longer functioning effectively,” Ogden wrote. “There are visible signs of wear and tear, such as bubbling, cracks, and vegetation growth, which pose a potential safety hazard for employees and visitors. In addition, the damaged roof has the potential of resulting in higher energy costs due to poor insulation, which in turn impacts the budget of the police department.”

The council also authorized a 15% contingency ($22,015) controlled by the city manager, bringing the total project budget to $168,785. Ogden wrote that the project was funded by monies budgeted and set aside specifically for this purpose.

♦ Voted unanimously to award a replacement project for heating, ventilation and air conditioning at the police department to the Sweet Home-based Walker Heating & AC, Inc. for $131,844 with a 15% contingency of $19,776, bringing the total project budget to $151,620.

Like its roof, the building’s HVAC units haven’t been replaced in its lifetime.

“The current state of the equipment and systems used by staff has resulted in inefficiencies and maintenance issues,” Ogden wrote in a request for council action. “Staff members have been struggling to ‘limp the system along’ over the past few years, which negatively impacts their productivity and overall effectiveness. The lack of reliable and functional equipment and systems also contributes to a less-than-optimal working environment, which may lead to staff dissatisfaction and retention issues.”

♦ Voted unanimously to conduct the second reading of an ordinance amending a portion of the city’s comprehensive plan and adopting a housing needs analysis completed through a grant from Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Among the analysis’ findings:

♦ Sweet Home’s population is expected to grow at 0.69% per year over the next two decades, adding 1,571 new residents. This will require 632 new dwelling units over a 20-year period. The forecast housing mix is expected to consist of 460 single-family detached homes, 42 townhomes/plexes, 45 multifamily housing units and 85 manufactured housing units.

♦ Some 58% of Sweet Home households made 80% or less of Linn County’s median family income level ($51,600) in 2020.

♦ More than 1 in 4 renter households in the city are severely rent-burdened, with more than 50% of that income going toward monthly housing costs.

♦ Net new housing needs over the next 20 years will require 169 acres of buildable residential land. Currently, Sweet Home’s urban growth boundary includes 610 such acres across categories that allow for residential development. The housing needs analysis indicates that the current Sweet Home urban growth boundary is sufficient to accommodate future housing needs.

The ordinance adds 12 residential land-use policies to the city’s comprehensive plan on the analysis’ recommendation. These include a marketing campaign to increase awareness and participation in green-energy tax credit programs to help homeowners and renters upgrade their homes to become more energy-efficient. They would also streamline the permitting process to reduce cost and delay of new housing units and use the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer mapping tool to identify the wildland-urban interface and wildfire risk at the property ownership level.

♦ Voted unanimously to conduct the second reading of an ordinance that would change the zoning of a 5.18-acre property west of Clark Mill Road to allow for the planned construction of an apartment building complex with a large, residents-only fitness center.

Applicant Eric Lund’s proposed change alters the zoning from residential low (R-1) to high density (R-3), bringing the zoning into conformity with the property’s existing comprehensive plan map designation.