Cities exist for a variety of reasons, and I think it’s a good idea for those of us who work for cities to focus on why we are being paid. Albany’s Strategic Plan is a great resource to help answer that question, but important information is also available in the City’s budget and other financial documents. We usually spend money on what is most important to us.
People want to live in a place where they feel safe, which helps explain why public safety is almost always the largest part of a city’s budget. Safety is a bigger concept than preventing crime and putting out fires. It includes having a good emergency response system, safe drinking water, and community services that protect against decay. All of us who work for the City and those who live here have some responsibility to help promote safety, and I believe we generally do a good job. Recent recognition of life-saving efforts by employees and citizens by our Council is just one affirmation that people in our community care about each others’ safety.
I feel safe in my own neighborhood; but when I reflect on what makes it a great place to live, I think about the nature trails, parks, sidewalks, and other essential utilities I use every day. During the ten years we have lived in our house, we have never had a moment without water or sewer service. Our street is in good condition, and we have experienced no flooding. My grandchildren love to walk through the woods near our home, and we regularly take advantage of the neighborhood parks. I enjoy the diversity of my neighborhood, where people from many different cultures live and interact at events, like the National Night Out sponsored by the Police Department.
Albany’s economy is closely tied to what is going on around the country and the world. We experience our share of misery during economic downturns and our measure of prosperity in better times. I believe we have some ability to influence local conditions by maintaining high quality services to residents and businesses and by focusing resources on various opportunities. The City has helped countless businesses with tax breaks or other financial incentives, and we have seen positive results with the restoration of the downtown commercial area and new jobs in industrial businesses. We cannot control all the variables that affect the local economy, but we can make the bad times less severe and the good times better.
I have had more than my share of chances to see the effects of corrupt and incompetent government on the lives of people around the world. We live in a country where bad conduct by government officials is generally punished and where public employees receive enough compensation that they do not have to supplement their incomes with bribes or other forms of corruption. We are not immune to mistakes or occasional dishonesty; but in every Oregon community where I have worked, employees have had many incentives to be honest and effective and few reasons to risk the penalties for corruption.
I plan to retire in Albany and continue living here for the remainder of my life. My wife and I like it here because we feel safe and we’re close to family and friends. We like our house and neighborhood and appreciate that we can move around town quickly and safely. Good medical care is easily accessible, and we like living in a town with good schools. The cost of living here is lower than most urban areas, yet we have many urban amenities. Albany’s virtues are not an accident. They are the product of many years of commitment, collaboration, and a common vision of what a good community should be. Keeping Albany a desirable place to live is a worthwhile goal for all of us.