In next Tuesday's election Salem voters will decide the fate of the $300 million Community Improvement Bond. Last Friday the City Club had an informational program about the bond featuring new Mayor Chris Hoy and Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Hoffert.
It was more interesting than I thought it would be. But then, my life is pretty routine, so I have a low bar when it comes to what I find interesting.
Quite a few City of Salem staff were there, including the recently appointed City Manager Keith Stahley. But they couldn't advocate for the bond, leaving that up to Hoy, Hoffert, and a slide presentation. I don't live in the city limits, so can't vote on the bond. My attitude is that it deserves a half-hearted "yes" vote.
The bond measure is heavily tilted toward street improvements. Sidewalks also, but streets get the bulk of the $157 million in that category.
There's something for everybody, more or less, in the bond measure. Which means that it won't be transformative, as would be the case if Salem went all out toward becoming a Green city with markedly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, Hoffert said that not everybody got everything they wanted, but no group said we weren't listened to. OK, probably politically wise, though by no means daring.
I got to ask the first question from the audience. It went like this: "Since medical calls account for the vast majority of Fire Department calls [75% or so] rather than fires, why are large engines sent out on medical calls, leading to wear and tear on them, rather than using right-sized vehicles for medical calls?"
I asked this because $26 million is in the bond to replace all of the Fire Department's engines, which have reached the end of their useful life. The response from a department employee (didn't get his name) was what I'd heard before.
They send out large fire trucks to medical calls because it isn't known what sort of call the truck will have to go to next. So by having a truck at a medical call, maybe it will be able to get to a vehicle accident or whatever quicker than if the truck was back at the station. I found this response logically unsatisfying, since it seems just as likely that a fire truck at the station could get to a fire more rapidly than a truck occupied with a medical call.
Someone else asked if the department had looked into electric engines. Answer: yes, but electric fire engines are very early in the electric vehicle process.
The slide above shows that if the bond passes, the $300 million will be spent from 2023 to 2032. So don't expect to see instant change. For example, new dog parks (a subject close to the heart of my canine-loving wife) won't begin to happen until 2026.
After the meeting I asked city staff when paving the decrepit parking lot at the Minto Brown dog park would happen. The pleasing answer was early on, since paving is straightforward and simple.
I also asked City Manager Stahley how bond interest forecasts were estimated, since bonds will be issued about every three years for a portion of the $300 million. He pointed me to a financial guy at the meeting, who told me that basically they assume a mid-range interest on the bonds. Not too high, not too low, somewhere in the historical middle.
Lastly, this slide shows how the City of Salem is able to keep the amount Salem citizens pay for bond measures constant, even with the new $300 million bond.