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Philomath City Hall artwork

The Philomath City Council appears that it might be taking the art of communication with local citizens to the next level by implementing some sort of program that avoids typical meeting decorum and provides more intimate conversations.

Month after month at city council meetings, a number of local residents go in front of the mic during the public comment period and voice their viewpoints on all kinds of matters ranging from decisions on water rates to wanting more information about a specific development.

However, frustration can set in either because they have more to say but are cut off by a time limit or they have questions that go unanswered because city councilors don’t respond per the established rules of conduct.

“Coffee with the councilors, I think that’s something the city council ought to pursue — casual, easy to interact, so that both the councilors and the citizens feel like we can communicate and get ideas exchanged,” Councilor Doug Edmonds said during the July 8 meeting, which included a 25-minute public comment period that covered topics such as water rates, posting meeting audio, the aftermath of an incident earlier this year and suggestions on what to consider when it comes to filling a vacant seat.

Jeff Lamb, who has followed city matters closely for several years, made a suggestion from the audience that councilors consider some sort of public meet-up, an idea that he had seen work in neighboring Corvallis. Later in the evening, Edmonds said he was on the same wavelength.

Councilor David Low agreed that it could provide a great benefit but did have one suggestion.

“From my point of view, my caveat is that we could have a respectful discussion back and forth,” Low said. “We definitely want to hear what you have to say but I would want you all to understand maybe our thinking, or maybe why we make the decisions that we do.”

If that happens, Low said such a discussion would “hopefully alleviate some of the concern that something’s going on that’s not savory. I don’t think anyone who’s up here sees that, but I appreciate that you folks may think otherwise. I think coming together where we can talk things out and understand where we’re coming from will go a long way and I hope to coming to some common understanding.”

Edmonds suggested a quarterly meeting, perhaps on a Saturday morning. Councilor Matthew Thomas thought bi-monthly get-togethers would work better.

The Philomath Police Department has hosted a similar public outreach activity, “Coffee with a Cop.”

Edmonds proposed that the council aim for launching the program in the October-November timeframe, which would give them August and September to finalize the details and schedule it out.

Also at the July 8 meeting, the city council approved on a 5-0 vote (Eric Niemann absent, one seat vacant) to contribute $26,800 in funding to various organizations. Out of that amount, $18,800 will be distributed through general social service funding and the other $8,000 comes out of the city’s water and sewer funds.

The Finance and Administration Committee’s recommendation to the council included $19,700 with the other $900 earmarked for the newly-established Philomath Family Housing Stability Fund. However, that organization still has unanswered questions on how the funds would be used, who holds the money and so on. As a result, the council opted to hold the $900 until there is clarification with the fund’s status.

Out of the general social service funding, recipients included the Philomath Youth Activities Club ($7,000), Philomath Community Services ($6,100), ABC House ($3,000), Senior Meals Program ($1,500) and Strengthening Rural Families ($1,200).

Appropriations of $5,000 to We Care and $3,000 to FISH Emergency Services comes out of the water and sewer funds.

In other news from the meeting:

• City Manager Chris Workman reported that the Corvallis School District has contracted with a school bus provider and acquired a lease on the Marys River Lumber property west of town. As a result, beginning this coming school year, local drivers could see a number of school buses at peak driving hours heading through town on their way to Corvallis to serve students.

• Workman said a Philomath property made a list of possible projects to be funded through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment Grant, which involves $600,000 in funding that serves Corvallis, Albany, Monroe, Philomath and Benton County. The program prioritizes “brownfield” sites for redevelopment, assessing existing site conditions and planning for future cleanup and reuse of priority sites. Ron and Barb Hartz applied through the program to repurpose property they own behind Philomath Rental. A separate application under consideration would benefit the Millpond Industrial Site.

• The council directed Workman to gauge community and participating organizational interest in a citizens’ academy, which if it moves forward, would be held for the third time this fall.

• Workman mentioned how Philomath could benefit through a Surface Transportation Block Grant through the Transportation Improvement Program. The Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization receives the grant money to spend on regional transportation projects of significance. On a list of the projects under consideration is the 13th Street block that connects Main and Applegate streets. It is part of the Philomath Safety and Streetscape project slated to begin in 2021. Benton County has jurisdiction over the block. The amount requested is $520,000. The proposed project list also includes $20,000 for a school vehicle circulation study in the 16th and Applegate area.

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