The city of Corvallis approved a $179 million spending plan Monday on a night dominated by discussions of the city’s response to hate and bias incidents.
Earlier efforts on the subject, including those by the local branch of NAACP and the city's King Legacy Advisory Board, had languished, but the concept received a dramatic push forward with the death last week of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The incident has led to nationwide protests, including one Sunday night in Corvallis that drew 2,000 participants.
Councilors unanimously approved a motion that will direct spending of up to $150,000 in 2020-21 on a hate/bias response program that possibly could include a full-time employee.
The budget deliberations occurred at the end of a public hearing that included one hour of remote public testimony. Nine of the 10 speakers spoke in favor of the hate/bias response work, with one speaker, Jonathan Stoll, noting a community petition with 3,000 signatures. The speakers, a diverse mixture that included African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos, were alternately emotional and frustrated, telling personal stories of bias incidents in town.
It remains unclear how much the council will spend. Several councilors noted the importance of working with other entities such as the Corvallis School District, Benton County and Oregon State University, with the implied expectation that costs might ultimately be shared.
“We can’t afford to be comfortable right now," said Ward 8 Councilor Ed Junkins, who made the motion to amend while also praising the work on the project put in by Ward 3’s Hyatt Lytle and Ward 9’s Andrew Struthers.
Junkins, the lone African American on the council, said he was the victim of a hate/bias incident early in his council career in 2019 when he was run off the road by a motorist while jogging on Northwest Ponderosa Avenue.
A second amendment, which would have contributed $5,000 to the da Vinci Days festival, failed on a 5-4 vote. Councilors, who have backed festival requests for funding in the past, expressed concerns that the festival could not put on a full event this year because of the coronavirus. Carole Hobrock, the executive director of the festival, also testified during the hearing.
The overall budget passed on an 8-1 vote, with Jan Napack of Ward 1 casting the lone “no” vote.
The budget includes more than $62 million in general fund spending, with new city revenue streams allowing the city to add the equivalent of 18 full-time positions (FTEs). A majority of the additions, 11, are in the emergency dispatch corps, with five in the Public Works Department.
A new public safety fee, a renewal of the city’s local option property tax levy and the establishment of a 911 emergency dispatch service taxing district allowed City Manager Mark Shepard to boost hiring even though “the coronavirus pandemic casts a shadow of concern over the city’s financial picture.
The $179 million budget total represents a 2% increase from a year ago, with the general fund total essentially flat. The city workforce, if the spending plan is approved, would rise from 473 FTEs to 491 FT
Eleven individuals submitted public testimony for Monday's budget hearing in advance, with nine of the 11 favoring the funding request from da Vinci Days.
Earlier in the meeting Corvallis Police Chief Jonathan Sassaman spoke about the Minneapolis incident and stressed that such a case could not occur in Corvallis because of the way his officers are trained.
“No Corvallis Police Department officer has ever been trained to put his knee on anyone’s neck and officers are trained to intervene if such a thing occurs,” said Sassaman, who has spent more than three decades in the Corvallis department. His retirement becomes effective June 30.
Sassaman also noted that his department has the longest-standing accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) in the state of Oregon, dating back to 1995. CALEA accreditation means that the department’s policies and training are certified at the highest level.
Sassaman also said that the department conducts annual diversity training with the topics changing every year,
The meeting opened with a brief discussion of the budget of the city’s new Urban Renewal Agency. City voters approved an urban renewal district for a 400-acre swath of South Corvallis in March 2019. Because of the newness of the district, only $90,000 is in the budget for 2020-21, with no major projects on the horizon until more tax revenue accrues. The budget for the agency was approved unanimously. No one testified during the public hearing.