Transparency and accountability continue to be topics of concern in Philomath.
During the June 24 City Council meeting, Councilor Marion Dark made a motion attempting to establish audio recordings for all city meetings, adding Public Works and the Finance/Administration Committee, where many real city finance decisions are made. She urged the keeping of the recordings on the city’s website for a minimum of three to six months for public access.
After 30 minutes of discussion and objection, City Manager, Chris Workman had convinced three councilors to vote the motion down. Vote: 3-2 (Opposed: David Low, Doug Edmonds, Matthew Thomas. In Favor: Dark, Chas Jones).
Why does transparency matter?
Philomath has approved an unprecedented (35%+) amount of growth since 2017, with another 26-acre, master plan development hearing before the Planning Commission July 15th. The original Hearing on May 20 was suspiciously canceled by the city (unbeknownst to the Planning Commission), the same day a 2,000-address mailer alerting Philomath residents of the hearing was released.
Philomath exceeded the lifespan of our water treatment plant facility over 10 years ago. To date there has been no clear communication to citizens or upfront planning addressing the treatment plant and other needed infrastructure expenditures estimated at $29 million.
In May, the city sponsored a water town hall event with expert speakers addressing Philomath’s overall water supply, facility, distribution concerns and impacts from climate change showing warming trends for the entire valley. Guest experts at no time stated that Philomath has enough water for continued population growth and development. However, their data and reports clearly showed that there are concerns and Philomath has supply issues during the dry season, with a near water curtailment in 2015. This is with a current population of 4,700.
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Looking to mitigate water issues, the city is considering using existing wells as aquifer storage recovery systems. This would require a considerable investment with no guarantee that the sizable cost would produce a solution as these systems are not necessarily a proven solution.
Those same wells have proven unreliable, hence the reason the city went to the Marys River for its water source. Obtaining water from Corvallis is not only tremendously costly, it is not a long-term solution. Corvallis is also dealing with unprecedented development and growth and may not continue to make excess water available to serve Philomath.
Building a new water treatment plant and infrastructure is a requirement for Philomath, but how we fund those substantial costs is a decision the citizens should have input on. Transparency and accountability, creativity, grants and conservation programs are necessary. We should demand dedicated funding for these costs, as Councilor Dark has suggested, reflecting a willingness of the City Council to show transparency and honesty to its citizens. We should not settle for unrestricted general water fund rate increases that will nearly double Philomath’s water rates with no real path to the new water treatment plant costs.
Continued development and population growth are not feasible with natural resource limitations. Securing our water supply is clearly an issue for Philomath. Our citizens do not want to face a water crisis and need our leaders to be responsible in the decisions they make today for the future of our community.
The criteria (methodology) that the city uses for water and other infrastructure capacity is currently under appeal before the Oregon State Court of Appeals.
It would be irresponsible to continue to approve additional development that requires services and resources that Philomath does not have and that our citizens will be forced to fund!