FRUITLAND — Several Fruitland city officials were featured as speakers at the Fruitland Chamber of Commerce’ s monthly luncheon on Oct. 6. The luncheon, held at the Fruitland water treatment plant, was well-attended by chamber members. The topic for this luncheon was “Political update: Get to know our current city officials.”
Featured as speakers were City Councilors Ed Pierson and Kaci Peterson, and city administrator Stuart Grimes. Their comments mainly centered around improving services as the city’s population continues to grow.
Pierson has worked in the Oregon Youth Authority for 25 years. In his comments, he cited the people he works with at City Hall as a reason he chose to run again.
“I’m just proud to represent and work with our staff; We’ve got an incredible staff,” he said. “As you can tell, we’re pretty progressive. But we’re conservative as far as spending.”
Managing the city’s continued growth tops Pierson’s list of priorities, but he notes City Hall has yet to grow with it.
“We’ve had two bond elections for a new police station. One of them failed by five votes, and the second was [by] 30 votes … Frankly, we’re running out of room. Our City Hall is packed, and the city is going to need more staff to take care of the needs.”
He praised the work of the city’s Wastewater Department in building new facilities to anticipate the aforementioned growth.
“A lot of cities are also experiencing growth, but they’re not ahead of the game like we were. Thanks to the voters for passing [a 2011] bond to allow us to do this.”
In her comments, Peterson noted that her family is one part of the city’s growth.
“We moved here about six years ago; We’re originally from the Rupert-Burley area. I’m from Rupert, he’s from Burley, we were rivals,” she said. “My husband got a job with St. Luke’s as an audiologist. That’s what initially brought us here.”
But she said having her say over developments in Fruitland is what makes her happy to stay.
“There was a decision I wasn’t really happy with, so I went to a meeting and I was like, ‘You know what? I really want to make a difference.’”
Peterson described sitting next to Pierson on the city council as a blessing. She also praised now-retired city administrator Rick Watkins for his many years of service to the city.
Whether it be Rupert or Fruitland, Peterson said she loves small towns.
“They’re all very similar, it’s just different names. So everybody’s related, someone’s married to somebody, so you can’t really say anything about someone because they’re related to that person.”
Being tight-knit reflects the town’s values, she noted.
“People love small towns; they love knowing their neighbors. They love not having traffic. It’s why we live out here. That’s what I look at when we make our decisions and how … we keep Fruitland feeling small, but it still progresses so we’re ahead of the game and ahead of that growth.”
Speaking of growth, Peterson noted in a report by Grimes which noted that so far in 2021, the city has had 69 single-family house building permits. Noteworthy is that the new Payette River Sports Complex is being installed next to the water treatment plant. A $59,000 T-Mobile hometown grant the city received last month will help pay for playground equipment there, as previously reported.
“It’s [growth] a positive thing, as long as we plan for it,” she said.
In observing how quick city staff work, Peterson noted that her family moved into a new house in town, and forgot to have her utilities switched over. But she said as soon as she notified the city’s Water Department, her service was connected in a day.
“That’s just the service that we have here in Fruitland, and I couldn’t be more proud of living here, working here and I’m so grateful to represent you another four years.”
Grimes, who took over for Watkins in July, added that his work with city staff and with students has helped him prepare for his role.
“You kind of learn a little bit from everybody that you spend time with. [Pierson] mentioned that his career has been working with juvenile delinquents. That’s how I first met him … He was my case manager,” Grimes joked. “It’s been a very interesting two months , it’s kind of like drinking from a fire hose. There’s a whole lot to learn in a short amount of time.”
Comparing himself to Watkins, he noted the transition has been intimidating.
“Nobody will ever know as much as much about Fruitland as Rick did, but it’s been a great experience and I’ll be honest … Basically, my job as city administrator is I oversee the day-to-day operation of the various departments in the city.”
Grimes described his job as the “best job in the world.”
“I know there’s days where you probably think, ‘Oh man, what was I thinking? I could be back in my classroom doing my thing .’ But I haven’t run into those days yet. It’s just been a blessing for me and my family. I’m very spoiled with the department heads that we have.”
He said he shares Peterson’s sentiment about Fruitland, and observed that many share in it, as well. He cited Jordan Gross, an NFL alum who grew up in Fruitland and moved back to pursue a career in farming, as another example of how tightly knit this town can be.
“He could live anywhere he wants, but he moved back to Fruitland, and I’ve got a lot of respect for that,” said Grimes.
Overall, he said his objective is to guide growth while maintaining a hometown feel.
“We know we have to grow or we die,” he noted, expressing his excitement to be involved in said growth.
As previously reported, Peterson, Pierson, Councilor Tom Limbaugh and Mayor Brian Howell will serve new terms starting in 2022, as these candidates ran unopposed. Howell, Peterson and Pierson began their current terms in 2018, Limbaugh in 2021.