Happy New Year

We had dinner last night with some friends from eastern Oregon who wanted to know more about Albany.  They were just passing through and didn’t know much about the community other than what they saw in their brief passage to our house and, from there, to Novak’s.  I was a little surprised when Sandy observed, “You have everything here, don’t you?”  It took me a second to realize she was talking about shopping opportunities and to respond that we do indeed have Costco.  When you live in some of the more remote parts of the state, stores like Sears, Target, Kohl’s, Home Depot, and Costco apparently constitute “everything.” 

I also explained that Albany has four historic districts, is located at the confluence of two rivers, has many parks and trails, a good selection of restaurants, a vibrant local theater group, a nice regional museum, a large community college, a national research laboratory, is a metals processing center, freeze dries the berries in most cereals, produces pharmaceuticals and membrane technology, and offers an amazing variety of recreation programs.  Our friends were impressed and promised to visit again when they have more time.

Albany has a lot to offer because, over a long period of time, people have chosen to invest here.  Some have invested money, while others have invested their time, talents, or all three.  I believe a critical role for the City of Albany is to help insure that people invest in the future.

My experience, both here and abroad, tells me that people invest when they know their investment (whatever it may be) is relatively safe and somewhat predictable.  Our desire for security may explain why the City spends most of our tax revenue on public safety.  We budgeted in the current year to receive $23.6 million in property taxes and plan to spend about $24.3 million on public safety.  This figure does not include the more than $1 million we spend to inspect buildings to make sure they are safe.

People also want to live and invest in a community that offers cultural and recreational opportunities.  We budgeted about $7.3 million to maintain our parks, pools, programs, and entertainment like River Rhythms or the Art and Air Festival.  The City additionally supports organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.  We will spend about $2.4 million to operate our two libraries.  We also use lodging tax revenue to promote the community and support attractions like the Monteith House and the annual Veterans’ Day Parade.

Water is essential to the life of any community, and no one would choose to risk their fortune in Albany if we did not have an assured supply of clean water and an equally secure way to treat and dispose of wastewater.  I have lived and worked in places that do not have these assurances, and life there is focused on survival rather than hope or prosperity.  We budgeted more than $56 million this year to spend on water and wastewater services, although some of this money is maintained as a reserve.  Last year we actually spent in excess of $32 million on these services, exclusive of capital projects.  Water and sewer services are not funded by taxes but rely on the rates we pay and fees associated with new development.

Communities cannot prosper without a functional transportation system that allows for delivery of goods and services without costly delays.  Albany budgeted more than $15 million this year for streets and transit service but will likely spend closer to $11 million on these critical services.  The difference is explained by the need to accumulate revenue in reserves for major projects in the future.

The City also maintains reserve funds for equipment replacement and other capital projects that exceed $10 million in the budget.  Last year we spent about $2.7 million from these funds.  We will spend over $2 million in debt service; about $5.5 million for support services such as Human Resources, Finance, Information Technology, and the City Manager’s Office; as well as more than $3 million from grants.  The Albany Urban Renewal Agency spent less than $1.5 million last year and will spend in excess of $2 million this year.

In summary, the City of Albany spent a little less than $103 million last year and will probably spend an amount close to that in the current year.  We have spent slightly more than $51 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, although we will likely spend more in the second half of the year due to a major federal grant to fund new fire fighter positions.  Last year’s expenditures were the lowest since 2006, reflecting a reduction in our total number of employees and declining revenue.

Albany may not have everything as we enter 2013, regardless of my eastern Oregon friends’ feelings.  Communities need to continually attract new investment to maintain old buildings, start new businesses, employ more people, and generally make the place better.  Collectively, Albany citizens will spend more than $100 million dollars this year on city services to serve their immediate needs and build for the future.  Our most important resource, however, is the belief people hold that Albany is good place to invest their time, talents, and money.  My hope for the New Year is that I can do my part to help strengthen that belief and make a positive contribution to the future of my community.  I wish the same for all who might read this column, as well as the hope for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

 

Merry Christmas

I don’t think it’s an accident that Christmas is celebrated in the dead of the northern hemisphere’s winter, when many trees are barren, days are short, and the weather is usually cold.  We need to do something to bring a little joy into the world, and what could be better than feasts, family gatherings, presents, colorful lights, and Santa?  If you throw in some peace on earth and goodwill to men, you go a long way toward fighting off the depressing aspects of a long, cold winter.  You can find many different arguments about the actual time of year when Christ was born, with many favoring April while some argue for September.  I won’t enter into that dispute, except to say that I’m glad we celebrate in December.

While Christmas is of great religious importance to me, I recognize and respect that it is not for everyone else.  Many of my friends are Jewish, Muslim, or atheist; and, in years past, we would have good discussions this time of year about the different events we celebrate or ignore, as the case may be.  I have a very close friend who would invite us to his house to observe Hanukah and then come to our home to accompany our Christmas carols with his guitar.  We were all warned, of course, to never tell his mother about this heresy.

All of this is a long-winded justification for simply wanting to pass along my best wishes for a wonderful holiday to everyone who reads this weekly posting.  Most of our family will be traveling to in-laws in various parts of the state, so Evelyn and I will have a quiet celebration with her parents.  We are doing some pre-Christmas present opening with grandchildren and won’t miss that important part of the fun.

I hope everyone travels safely and returns with some optimism to face the remaining challenges of winter and keeping things together when they always seem to want to fall into chaos.  I haven’t followed the Mayan Calendar discussion much, but I’m told it has been misinterpreted and the world is not going to end this week.  I guess that’s just one more reason to celebrate and enjoy a very, Merry Christmas!

Small Acts of Kindness

Yesterday was a brighter day for me, thanks to the efforts of all those who worked so hard to put on the annual Holiday Food Faire.  The decorations were perfect; the company was great; the food was outstanding, and the entertainment provided by Shane Wooton and Jeff Hinrichs was indescribable.  The music from Mary Gaeta and her husband was beautiful.

A Christmas or holiday gathering of coworkers does not represent a large portion of our lives or solve the many problems we face every day.  It is, however, an act of service that helps brighten our world and promote a better spirit.

As I write this message, I have just learned of the tragic deaths of so many children and teachers at a school in Connecticut.  As a parent and grandfather, I can think of nothing more horrible than the loss of innocent lives at a place where they should be safe and joyfully participating in the celebration of the season.  This tragedy follows closely the shooting in Oregon, and both events cause me to wonder how people could go so horribly wrong.

I think our souls shrivel and harden when we become too focused on ourselves and too sensitive to all that is wrong in our world.  Hope gives way to despair; optimism to cynicism, and joy to sorrow.  More tragically, love and service are replaced by hate and violence.

Events like the Holiday Food Faire or our celebrations with family and friends become even more important in a world where there are far too many negative influences.  I feel deeply privileged to be surrounded by so many caring and thoughtful people who compel me to be more aware, not only of my blessings, but of the need for me to contribute, too.

There is no immediate cure or even consolation for the sorrows of this day.  There are only the many acts of kindness we can give to each other to help insure there will be fewer of these unthinkable acts in the future.

My thanks go out to everyone here who does their share to make this place a little more caring, a bit more hopeful, and a sliver more joyful.  We may not realize how important these small acts are, but I believe that in the long-term they may be the most important things we do.