With construction of the third Google data center at the Port of The Dalles to begin soon, Wasco County and City of The Dalles officials will be nearing a discussion on how to divvy up the annual payments Google will make as part of their enterprise zone tax abatement agreement. County Commission Rod Runyon noted there has been call for a community conversation on how to do this. The funds from previous Google enterprise zones have been devoted to specific projects determined by the City and County, but there has been some who believe it should be divided up between all the taxing districts impacted by the agreement for those agencies to make their own decisions.
On the third ballot, Hood River City Councilors picked Tim Counihan from a field of seven candidates to fill a vacancy on that panel. A first round of voting, done by written ballot, narrowed the field to Counihan and Megan Saunders, and the second ballot left the pair tied at three. Mayor Paul Blackburn called for a third ballot after no one on the Council elected to speak following round two, and someone changed their vote to Counihan. Counihan, who had sought election to the Council in 2014, indicated his top three goals are to maintain progress in making the City fiscally sustainable, enact policies to make Hood River a safe family friendly place to live, and create an environment where locally owned businesses can thrive. Counihan fills the seat vacated by Laurent Picard’s resignation in May, and the term runs through the end of the year.
The Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency board, made up of The Dalles City Council and Mayor Steve Lawrence, is recommending changing its governance structure to the City Council, but there will be a public hearing before a final decision is made. Currently the Council acts as the URA board, with a nine-member advisory committee in place to make recommendations. The proposal would eliminate the advisory panel, and create a nine-person URA board made up of three Councilors and two members of the general public appointed by the Mayor, and single representatives of Wasco County, Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, and the Port of The Dalles. Lawrence says he wants to make sure the public has a full opportunity to weigh in on the change. The hearing will take place in September.
The Hood River City Council is revising its ballot measure to create a three percent tax on recreational marijuana sales to allow more flexibility in how future Councils choose to use the money. The Council went along with a recommendation from City Manager Steve Wheeler to remove from the ballot question references to using revenue from the tax for public safety and education, and create a resolution to state that intention. Wheeler says that’s to allow for unforeseen needs in the future. The ballot measure will go to voters in November.
The Hood River County Library District Board of Directors has tabbed current District Assistant Director Rachael Fox as the library’s new director. Fox began working in libraries when she was hired as a library assistant in 2002 at the county-run Hood River County Library, a position she held until the library’s closure in 2010. While working there, Fox studied for and received her Master of Library Science from Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management. Fox was one of the first employees of the newly-created Hood River County Library District when she was hired as its first Cataloging Specialist in 2011. She later became the district’s first Assistant Director, a position she’s held since 2013. Current director Buzzy Nielsen’s announced in May that he would be resigning to move with his family to Central Oregon. Following a national search, the library district received and reviewed nineteen applications. Final approval of Fox’s selection will be at the District board meeting on July 19, and she will begin her new position on August 1.
Jeffrey Hecksel has been hired as the new Hood River County Administrator. County Commissioners voted Monday to select Hecksel from five finalists for the position. Hecksel served as City Manager of Glenwood Springs, Colorado for eleven years before leaving that post in December. He has an Oregon background, spending six years as City Manager in Monmouth, and working for the city of Forest Grove for 12 years before that. County Commission Chair Ron Rivers says Hecksel seemed to fit the community better than the other candidates, adding he is professional but relaxed. Hecksel is expected to begin his role as Hood River County Administrator on August 15. He takes over for David Meriwether, who formally retired from the position at the end of June but is serving in an interim capacity until Hecksel takes over.
North Wasco County School District 21 says recent testing at five school sites showed no actionable levels of lead in drinking water. Testing was performed in mid-June at Dry Hollow, Colonel Wright, and Chenowith elementary schools, The Dalles High School, and the Wahtonka campus, which are D-21’s oldest buildings. Of the 72 individual samples taken, none was above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action levels for either public water drinking systems or school water supplies. Mosier Community School had a test performed separately and showed no actionable levels of lead in their drinking water. Testing will be conducted at The Dalles Middle School before the start of school. Oregon schools are not currently required to test drinking water for lead, but in early June state school and health authorities recommended taking such action. Of the 72 individual samples taken, none was above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action levels for either public water drinking systems or school water supplies.
The Department of State Lands is signing off on a plan for wetlands mitigation in The Dalles. Officials in The Dalles have been working with state officials on the plan for about years, particularly to deal with what are called vernal pools that are located on about 200 acres of land marked for industrial development in The Dalles. Port of The Dalles Executive Director Andrea Klaas says the plan means there is now a specific timeline for development to occur on the parcels that were a part of this process. She says a developer wants to come in and mitigate wetlands, they can take the plan and know they can develop the site in short order. She expects the process will be streamlined to about nine to 12 months with this plan.
NORCOR officials are working on having unfilled bed space at the regional jail utilized by the state of Oregon and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hood River County Commissioner and NORCOR board member Ron Rivers says state officials have considered constructing a new jail, but he notes NORCOR has plenty of room. Rivers says the state rejected a formal contract two weeks ago, but they will rent bed space on an as-needed basis beginning in the next month or so, and there will be a similar arrangement with ICE. Rivers says the need is foreseen by state and federal officials through November, even though he hopes it can continue longer than that. He added the four-month period could bring NORCOR about $400,000 in revenue.
The Dalles City Council, acting in its capacity as the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency board, will consider a proposal to change the governance structure for urban renewal at its meeting Monday. Currently the Council acts as the URA board, with a nine-member advisory committee in place to make recommendations. The proposal would eliminate the advisory panel, and create a nine-person URA board made up of three Councilors and two members of the general public appointed by the Mayor, and single representatives of Wasco County, Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District, and the Port of The Dalles. The move would also require a budget committee made up of the nine board members and nine more members of the public. The proposal will be considered tonight during the Urban Renewal Agency board meeting that will convene immediately after the City Council meeting that starts at 5:30 in The Dalles City Hall.