City, County talk tourism, housing

 

Last updated 3/14/2023 at Noon



The March 8 joint meeting of the Sisters City Council and Deschutes County Board of Commissioners had an agenda packed with updates on a number of new and ongoing programs.

Explore Sisters

Executive Director Scott Humpert introduced himself to the Deschutes County Commissioners and explained how the world of tourism promotion has evolved from just marketing a destination to managing tourism as an economic activity incorporating marketing, management, stewardship, and sustainability. The Destination Management Organization (DMO) role is to promote responsible visitation while maintaining livability for the residents.

Humpert and the board are currently working behind the scenes, getting the stage set for the organization. Humpert is spending time out in the community meeting residents, business owners, and community partners. One high-priority project currently underway is the establishment of a strategic plan which will guide policies, procedures, and budget forecasting. The University of Oregon’s Sustainable City Year program’s non-profit management track is doing research to be used in developing a solid business plan.

Another high-priority project is developing brand identity for the DMO. The brand will drive the marketing function, providing the underpinning of an ad campaign and the website. The goal is to do intentional targeted advertising. Requests are currently out for proposals.

Down the road, Humpert hopes to increase capacity by hiring another employee, who may work on projects like advertising or identifying other sustainable funding sources beyond the transient lodging tax (TLT) and grants.

Board member Nancy Connolly stressed that the Explore Sisters Board is made up of Sisters residents who value the livability of the town. “We don’t want to add to the demise of the beauty here,” Connolly said to the assembled officials.

Landfill siting

Chad Centola, solid waste director for Deschutes County, who will retire at the end of 2023, provided an overview of the process involved in siting a new landfill in Deschutes County. He said no new landfills have been permitted in the state of Oregon for 30 years.

He explained the pros and cons of possibilities for handling future waste such as hauling to facilities in the Columbia Gorge, which would be impacted by winter road conditions and the problem of increased production of greenhouse gases from the trucks’ internal combustion engines. He said a waste energy facility to produce electricity isn’t feasible due to the county not producing enough waste to make it practical.

In community surveys, 80 percent of respondents favored siting a new facility in Deschutes County. They didn’t like the idea of sending local waste somewhere else.

In a survey of private and public lands in the county, 204 potential sites were identified. Due to wetlands, seismic areas, incorporated cities, shallow groundwater, unstable slopes, sensitive natural areas like the Metolius Basin and the Badlands, and other exclusionary areas, the 204 were narrowed down to 31, which upon closer review whittled down to six. By spring 2024, a finalist site recommendation will be made to the Board of County Commissioners.

Incoming Solid Waste Manager Tim Brownell gave a short presentation on the Recycling Modernization Act (SB582, 2021), which will promote a homogenized recycling approach throughout the state of Oregon where recycling practice will be uniform no matter where you live in Oregon.

The list of materials eligible to be recycled with curbside pickup will be expanded with a universal materials acceptance list. More materials will also be eligible for drop-off at recycle centers.

Producers of materials like polystyrene will be required to pay for centers where their materials can be recycled rather than going in the landfill. They will also be required to pay for staff at drop-off centers.

Affordable housing update

Scott Woodford, Sisters community development director, provided an update on the 40-unit apartment complex proposed for siting on a lot in the current Heavenly Acres. An agreement between the City and Northwest Housing Alternatives (NWHA) is currently being negotiated. The City has received $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the County to help fund the project. An appraisal of the land needs to be completed so NWHA can secure a loan.

Houseless strategies

Cheyenne Purrington, executive director of the Coordinated Houseless Response Office, outlined strategies in response to the governor’s order to increase shelter for unsheltered houseless individuals. Central Oregon will be receiving $14 million to address this emergency, with the per capita number of unsheltered citizens in Central Oregon one of the highest in the nation as well as high acuity of mental health and addiction issues and a high number of unsheltered families.

The one-time funding is being reallocated from other state budgets and is targeted for the development of 81-83 new shelter beds and rehousing 151-162 individuals. The money will be directed toward acquisition, remodeling, and the expansion of existing programs. Prevention efforts will receive funding from a separate source.

Delivery of the money and identification of the programs are being expedited as the program will expire by the end of 2023. Programs identified for funding will be collaborating, not competing. Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) will administer the program with a template from the State.

An executive committee will be screening applications using factors such as risk of project, what other funding is being leveraged, the experience of the organization and whether they already do something similar, whether there’s a program model and if it fits within best practices, and what is the per person ask (return on investment).

A variety of models could be funded, such as master leasing, where a property is leased by an organization for a period of years and is then leased or rented at an affordable rent to those seeking housing. The same can be done with the acquisition of a property. Rent buy-downs involve an agency paying rent ahead for a tenant to encourage property owners to rent to low-income individuals.

Regional Public Safety Training Center

Commissioner Tony DeBone, as chair of CORE3, reported on the progress of establishing a training center north of Highway 126 in Redmond on 300 acres of County land.

The center will contain a burn building for use by firefighters to train. Flames can be turned on and off, which eliminates the need for departments to have an actual house to burn for training purposes. A pursuit track will allow for high-speed driving training for police officers.

The center’s being located in Redmond could provide a training center for all of Eastern Oregon, which could provide revenue for Deschutes County. There is one comprehensive center located in Salem, and Washington County has a training site.

Redmond currently has the airport and fairgrounds, and with CORE3 there would be a consolidated center which would be vital in case of a large disaster west of the mountains, like a Cascadia earthquake, when Redmond would become the command center.

The 300 acres donated by Deschutes County has a value of $16.4 million. The Commissioners are hopeful their many partners will contribute to the financing of the center for relief efforts.

Phase I of the process includes land-use approval, controlling the perimeter, and construction of the training building and pursuit track.

 

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