ONTARIO — Ontario City Council members and city staff met bright and early Saturday at City Hall in what City Manager Adam Brown called a council retreat, or look-down-the-road workshop.
During the meeting, which stretched out till the afternoon, attendees were urged to ask questions of each other, while respecting ideas they might not necessarily agree with. Brown and Peter Hall, human resources manager and assistant to the city manager, led the discussion, which included pinpointing fears and aspirations for the community of Ontario this year.
Ideas were written on Post-it notes, and put on several large charts, giving leaders the opportunity to toss around ideas, and discuss them in a leadership training environment.
Concerns about new legislation
New laws put forth by the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown that may “kill eastern Oregon and halt the city’s progress,” were among concerns addressed by attendees. This included whether House Bill 2020, the proposed cap and trade on carbon tax which is going through the Oregon Legislature this session, will negatively impact Ontario’s gasoline or diesel prices.
Aside from carbon tax the legislative session is also looking at tenant rights among other statewide proposals. For these, Councilor Marty Justus said, “there’s no comprehensive look at eastern Oregon.” Councilor Norm Crume also voiced his concern that “virtually every piece of legislation” that has been passed has negatively impacted eastern Oregon, expressing worry over the pattern continue this session.
“If the stuff goes through, I honestly don’t know what we will do,” Crume said.
Justus said that Ontario citizens have “left in an exodus,” saying those who didn’t think it was an exodus were mistaken.
“The caps at rental price increases will make less rentals available for people that have to rent,” he said.
In addition, he pointed to an increase in necessary paperwork.
Ontario Mayor Riley Hill agreed, saying, “I turned all mine over to a management company [because] I was tired of dealing with it.”
Getting ‘back together’
When it comes to aspirations, council members were positively focused on bringing back an atmosphere of togetherness that existed in the past.
“I’ve been part of this community for forty-seven years,” Hill said. “I still have hope. I want to bring the community back together. I want to make Ontario a place people want to live. … I want to make some plans to get the community back together.”
Councilor Ray Palomo echoed that sentiment.
“I think we should try to get everyone back on the bus, because they got off the bus. Let’s brainstorm the heck out of this so we can come back together as a community,” he said.
Councilor Freddy Rodriguez suggested members focus on community stewardship and what the implementation of that means.
Possible ways to bring the community together to revive the downtown corridor include an outdoor theater and bringing back the farmers market.
Hill said he had the verbal support of State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, for the implementation of an outdoor theater by the Ontario Train Depot.
Justus said he’d like to see a farmers market or community gathering place where Ashley Furniture’s storefront used to be, before the winter of 2016-17 collapsed that portion of the building forcing it to relocate. Justus called it an ideal location.
Problems leaders see
Public safety, crime and too few youth activities were among other chief concerns addressed among attendees of the strategic planning session.
“Code enforcement is a big problem,” Justus pointed out.
This includes the city not mandating trash pickup, he said.
“We have to clean up the city. It starts with making sure everyone has access to the services,” Justus said.
Hill expressed disappointment that no trash was put into two 20-yard dumpsters he paid to have put out on Southeast 11th, leaving them there for two weeks. Hill did not mention if citizens were told the dumpsters were there for public use, but he said he intended they use the dumpsters to clean up the area.
Councilor Dan Capron said he hopes the garbage gets cleaned up.
“I’ve lived here twenty-five years — I’m not gonna move,” Palomo said. “I live in the east side of town. It’s the ghetto. It’s not anywhere where everyone wants to be at. Nobody will go there to use the dumpsters, even if you put them out.”
Fear holds people back, he said.
Justus and Hill both support ideas to clean up and improve the Malheur County fairgrounds, and to set aside at least a small percentage of marijuana tax for city maintenance.
Crume said he hoped to see more proficiency with Ontario’s Police Department.
“The Police department having patrolmen is not efficient,” he said. “You need to have people that are proficient at every job, and code, whatever it may be. We need detectives so patrolmen can do patrol work. We haven’t had a detective for twenty years. The community not only needs it, but deserves it.”