Amanda Weisbrod

By Amanda Weisbrod

The Observer

At its regular meeting Wednesday night, the La Grande City Council amended an outdated park facilities fees policy, accepted the final 2018 study and report for the sidewalk local improvement district, and proclaimed May 2019 as Older Americans Month.

Stu Spence, La Grande Parks & Recreation director, argued the city’s park pavilion rental fees and reservation methods must be revised, as they haven’t been touched since 2009.

“It’s out of date. It doesn’t work for our systems anymore. It’s really tough on staff, and we’ve realized the customer experience is affected as well,” he said at the meeting. “Essentially, we’re simplifying the process for the customer and for the staff, and in turn creating an easier process, more revenue and less cost.”

The amendment will address several fee and scheduling concerns for Riverside Park Pavilion and its kitchen, Pioneer Park Rotary Pavilion, Birnie Park Pavilion and Max Square.

According to a packet provided by the city, key changes include: “dropping the non-resident fees to standardize rentals, adding Birnie Park Pavilion as a rental space, eliminating the cleaning fee, and clearly defining pavilion and kitchen rental fees.”

Spence said these revisions will not take place until Nov. 1 as to honor the price points for those who reserved pavilions this summer.

“The reason this is before you today is because when summer heats up and pavilion rentals are going strong and they book them for next year, we’ll have a new structure in place,” he said, addressing the council, which passed the amendment unanimously.

La Grande Public Works Director Kyle Carpenter then stepped up to the podium to discuss the 2018 final study and report for the City-Wide Voluntary Sidewalk Local Improvement District with the council.

Last year, the total cost of projects repaired under the LID was more than $20,000 with approximately 1,500 square feet of repairs throughout the city. The packet provided by the city notes a LID “offers property owners a way to improve their property and maintain existing sidewalks.”

Carpenter then proposed to establish a new LID for 2019 that would focus on Area Nine, which covers the eastern side of the city bordered to the north by Island Avenue and the south by the railroad tracks. According to the provided packet, this area was last evaluated in 2008.

“Our staff goes out, we do the inspections of the sidewalk infrastructure in that area, (then) we send out letters inviting those to participate who have areas with problems,” the public works director said, adding anyone living outside of Area Nine who wants to participate in the program can still “take advantage of the prices, (but at this time we won’t) actively pursue any areas other than Area Nine.”

The council approved Carpenter’s proposal unanimously.

Later in the meeting, Councilor Gary Lillard delivered a proclamation to declare May 2019 as Older Americans Month in order to acknowledge the growing number of older adults in the community and appreciate their “many valuable contributions to society.”

“We urge every resident to take time during this month to recognize older adults and the people who serve them as essential and valuable members of our community,” Lillard said. The council unanimously passed the proclamation.

The La Grande City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the Community Room of Cook Memorial Library to begin budget hearings for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Urban Renewal Agency

Following the city council meeting Wednesday night, the Urban Renewal Agency, composed of La Grande City Council members, considered moving the deadline for the completion of the historic Liberty Theatre building renovations to June 1, 2021, giving the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board an extra two years to get the project up and running. The former deadline was Aug. 20, 2018.

Councilors Justin Rock and Jim Whitbeck raised concerns about the extended deadline, suggesting the URA propose an agreement with “more teeth.”

“When do we stop if they don’t meet this deadline?” Rock asked. “When is enough enough?”

After a long debate, the agency agreed to approve the extended deadline, but with one caveat: If the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board does not complete its project by June 1, 2021, the board would be required to repay the $150,000 loan it received from the URA.

The URA loaned this $150,000 to the Liberty Theatre Foundation Board in two installments of $75,000, the first paid in 2011 and the second in 2013, according to the Liberty Theatre Foundation grant tracking spreadsheet provided by the city. The agency previously decided to grant forgivess for this loan, but will require payment if the project isn’t completed on time.

The members of the URA also decided to deny any further extensions on this project, although the future URA members of 2021 could choose to amend that decision if they wish.

“I think (this agreement) also provides some flexibility in terms of any kind of punitive action the next agency should choose to implement,” La Grande Mayor Steve Clements said.