Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber emphasized the two key challenges of revenue and housing Wednesday at his annual “state of the city” address.
“The state of the city is good,” Traber told a crowd of about 80 people at the new Courtyard by Marriott. “The city is in good hands with the staff we have and our elected officials. We’re all in good hands, but we do have challenges … and that will be the theme.”
On revenue issues, Traber noted that property tax revenue is rising at a slower rate than city costs “and at some point you have to reduce the number of (employees) or reduce services.”
Traber mentioned low staffing in the Corvallis Fire Department, the 12-hour shifts that are taxing the police, as well as staffing and workload issues in the 911 emergency dispatch center that the city shares with Benton County and other jurisdictions.
The city is looking at a pair of possible solutions. Both come at a cost to the taxpayers. First, voters are likely to pass judgment in November on a replacement for the city’s local option property tax levy, which currently raises about $3.5 million per year for a wide range of city services.
A replacement likely would focus on boosting public safety agencies. Meanwhile, a taxing district for 911 service could be on the ballot as early as 2019.
“People who work here can’t live here … and it’s gotten worse,” said Traber of the city’s housing challenges. The mayor noted:
• The historic low of vacant land cited in the just-released Land Development Information Report.
• Building permits are down.
• A lack of supply is pushing housing prices up.
• Too many households are cost-burdened (spending too high a percentage of income on housing).
“That’s a serious problem,” he said.
Another piece of the housing challenge is the slow rate of annexations in recent years. City officials have pledged to make the process, which is more cumbersome in Corvallis than other cities, simpler.
“We’re going to have a conversation about that,” said Traber, who has scheduled a Feb. 5 public hearing to discuss city policy on annexations. The city challenged a 2016 state law that limits voter-approved annexations — which Corvallis began using in 1976 — but a loss in Benton County Circuit Court has led Traber and the city to reconsider their options.
The public hearing on annexations comes amid a perfect storm of annexation applications. At that same Feb. 5 meeting, councilors will deliberate on two housing-related annexations — Marys and Caldwell Farms — as well as an expansion proposal by Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.
Traber also mentioned some “good news” on the housing front, the approval of the 274-lot Ponderosa Ridge project in northwest Corvallis and the possibility of building in the Timberhill area now that a planned development overlay has been removed from about 200 acres above the Kings-Walnut intersection.
Traber found plenty of other positive news to feature in his 36-minute speech. He noted the positive livability results that came with the hiring of six new police officers — half of them paid for by the current levy and half by Oregon State University. He listed a series of parks and facilities improvements. He praised the Corvallis Police Department for its gold accreditation, City Manager Mark Shepard for his efforts to reduce operational expenses and trumpeted improved economic activity — with the new hotel in which he was speaking as a prime example.
Traber also noted ongoing planning work that the city is doing that he hopes will pay big dividends down the line: forming a board to implement the city’s new vision plan, updating the buildable lands inventory and transportation system plan, efforts to tackle climate change and the new strategic operational plan produced by Shepard and his staff.
“This is a delightful community and I’m delighted to be your major,” said Traber. “It’s fun to work on these things.”
During the question period which followed, Traber was asked if the mayor’s position should receive more compensation.
“I already make enough,” said Traber, a retired business executive and software engineer who receives a $100 per month stipend. “I tried to refuse the stipend, but they told me it would require an ordinance. So I just let it go.”
Traber's four-year term expires at the end of the year. He has not said if he will seek re-election.