The Philomath City Council plans to take a closer look at the possibility of implementing staggered four-year terms for councilors. Under the current system, all six seats go before the voters at the same time every two years.
“Right now, all six councilors are replaced at the same time and that means that all six councilors may have to get up to speed on the history and what’s going on and I think that’s not as functional as it could be,” said City Councilor Doug Edmonds, who asked for two other councilors to join him on a thee-person subcommittee to study the issue.
Any proposed term changes that come out of the discussion require a change to the City Charter and as such, it’s an issue that would go before the voters.
“We’ll bring back a report to the council at a later date with a recommendation,” Edmonds said at Monday night's meeting. “Once the council puts this together, then we would be targeting the November ballot for the general election because it has to be approved by voters — the charter change.”
Philomath and Corvallis are reportedly the only two cities in Oregon with two-year terms.
The issue came up during work session discussions in December involving a review of the City Charter. Part of those talks also included a reference to the current system that limits the mayor and councilors to a maximum of 10 years of continuous service.
Edmonds mentioned a letter about City Council terms that was received from Van Hunsaker, a former mayor and councilor who served on a charter review committee in 1986.
“At the time, the city councilors had four-year terms with three voted on each two years,” Hunsaker wrote to try to put the issue in perspective. “At the time, Philomath was having a hard time getting individuals to run for the council.”
In the Nov. 4, 1986 general election, Philomath voters passed by a margin of 624 to 206, a City Charter revision that included shortening the terms of councilors to two years.
Hunsaker shared his views and the reasons why those changes were made in the 1980s.
“However, I believe that times have changed. Citizens are more engaged. Even with voting on six people at once, there has always been enough to run, maybe with a little arm-twisting once in a while,” Hunsaker wrote while suggesting that three councilors should be elected every two years.
On the issue of term limits of 10 consecutive years, Hunsaker said he felt that should remain in place.
Councilors Matt Lehman and Ruth Causey volunteered to serve on the subcommittee with Edmonds to take a look at the issue.
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In other news from the Jan. 13 meeting:
• Lehman was sworn in as a new councilor by Ruth Post, city recorder. Lehman will serve the remainder of Marion Dark’s term, which expires at the end of this calendar year.
• Four people spoke during the public comments period on topics that included growth and development, proposed ordinance amendments, Comprehensive Plan update, infrastructure challenges with water, a lawsuit that involves an engineering firm and allegations that two residents on Cooper Lane became sick from drinking water before a “boil water” notice had gone out to residents in the vicinity in connection with a water line installation on South 15th Street.
• The council appointed Giana Bernardini to the Planning Commission from among two candidates that had submitted applications. Bernardini will replace outgoing commissioner Lori Gibbs.
• The council appointed Julie Conner and Christine Kastella to three-year terms and Noelle Cummings to a two-year term on the city’s Budget Committee. Cummings has been serving on the committee for the past year to complete a vacated term. The other two vacancies involved individuals that are now on the City Council. The three candidates were the only applications to fill the three vacancies.
• The council approved the mayor’s appointments to fill two positions on the Park Advisory Board. Mayor Eric Niemann appointed Carol Leach and Sandy Heath from among five candidates who were interested in those positions. Leach had just completed a first three-year term. The mayor thanked Malcolm Miner for his efforts during two three-year terms on the board.
• The council tabled a $1,000 donation request from a local farmers’ market steering committee, which plans to run a pilot program later this year beginning in mid-June. Mark McGuire, who chairs the committee, said about $700 would be used for liability insurance and the rest for other various needs. Councilors wanted more information on the number of committed vendors and since the request did not involve a critical need in terms of timing, the issue was tabled. McGuire plans to return to the council with more details on vendors, insurance costs and other issues that came up during the discussion.
• The council approved a 2.59% increase to its system development charges based on the Engineering News Review Construction Cost Index. For a typical residential property, the total SDCs (water, sewer, street, stormwater, parks) increase to $26,847 — up $675 from last year.
• The council discussed Samaritan Award nominees in several categories. Hosted by the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce, this year’s awards will be Feb. 19.
• The council approved the acceptance of a $50,000 grant from the Department of Land Conservation and Development. The money will go toward the hiring of a consultant to begin the process of updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including an Economic Opportunity Analysis, Buildable Lands Inventory, Housing Needs Analysis and Downtown Main Street Plan project. The city plans to contract with ECONorthwest for the consulting work. The city budgeted $20,000 from its general fund this year to use toward the project and City Manager Chris Workman indicated those funds could help pay for the completion of the Downtown Main Street Plan. Workman reported that the consultant could begin work by the end of January and the first meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee would take place in February.
• The council tabled a vote on adopting an ordinance to amend municipal code zoning regulations after discussing changes involving vehicle parking standards. The council via a roll-call vote did adopt an ordinance to amend sections of its annexation code. (See separate story).
• The council approved a resolution to support a Veterans and War Memorial Grant application to Oregon Heritage and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Niemann has been working on various ideas and concepts of the park to be located on the corner of College and North 16th streets on property donated by the late Beverly Durham. The grant could be for as much as $80,000. (See separate story published in the Jan. 15 edition).
• Public Works Director Kevin Fear reported that this year’s city recycling event in connection with Republic Services will be April 18 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
• Fear also reported that a preconstruction meeting occurred with Millersburg Land and Development on the Newton Creek Estates project, which is located off Chapel Drive east of school district property. Fear said the developer plans to move forward beginning in mid-February.