OPINION PIECE: Warning- This content is full of facts and figures and some local boy impressions. But who knows, you just might learn a thing or two. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
Last night I sat at home here in Old Orenco, cooking pasta and waiting for my turn to get my 3 minutes of air time with the City Council; that is something you can all do when they meet but hardly any of you ever do. I often feel lonely, sharing my pointed thoughts and beliefs to a screen of faces who are not allowed by law to answer back. 3 little minutes to speak in a world of trouble, yet some of us keep at it and more will hopefully soon follow. You see friends, Hillsboro is in trouble, big trouble in fact. We see it manifesting itself every day with the endless sirens, traffic, smokestacks, the housing crisis, and crime. I travel around the City daily and as one of the busiest real estate brokers on the Westside, I meet more people in a week than many do in a year. This gives me a unique ear for the lives of people all over Hillsboro and beyond. It is a wide cross-section too. Without exception, people are worried, stressed out, and have things to say. Strong opinions abound and there is no lack of passion. Yes, we have a great town but the sense that things are wrong is pervasive.
Sometimes I drive through town, see the abundance of riches (huge homes, stadiums, City Hall, shopping malls, etc) but get the distinct feeling it is all too much like a movie set. A construct of a system struggling to maintain appearances, and more so its credibility. We are not the town some want us to believe we are, in some ways we are more and in just as many we are less. Let me share one stark example of what I mean.
Suzanne Linneen is the Finance Director for the City of Hillsboro. Last night during the City Council work session she presented the budget for the Cities Capital Improvement Program. Basically, this was a crash course on where the City has committed $579,694,653 dollars to be spent on projects in the next few years. This employee of the City knows here stuff and the numbers were flying fast and furious.
But hold the phone– the ever-sharp Councilor Anthony Martin asked if these numbers included Hillsboro HiLight high-speed internet. After all, that auspicious city-wide noble effort is another $109,000,000 and is headed to be way over budget. Lineen said that it was not in the numbers.
So how about we just call the Capital improvement budget $750,000,000. That is 3/4 of 1-Billion greenbacks we are all on the hook for as we look ahead to the next 5 years, and keep in mind these are capital projects and not the money we need to run the City year to year.
GOD I HATE NUMBERS – but they are very unforgiving when they have to be accounted for and reckoned with. If the economy is good, these capital projects find funding from grants and various revenue streams. But if it goes bad then someone at Hillsboro City Hall will be answering a lot of tough questions and looking for answers that may be nowhere to be found. Let the record show, the current administration in City Hall is on a spending spree, and for many watching it feels just a little like a group of drunken sailors are in port.
Enter the Hillsboro Hops! As the evening went along the staff dove into how these huge numbers were breaking out. In the broad categories were some examples of where the money is going. A few of them include:
- Wood Street Fire Training Improvement – $1.6 Million
- Fire Fleet Facility Expansion – $4.16 Million
- Brookwood and South Hillsboro Fire – $13 Million
- Housing Shelter at TV HWY & NE 17th – $6 Million
- Jackson School Road Improvement – $21.47 Million
- 53rd Avenue Park- $13 Million
- Affordable Housing Projects – $40 Million
Those are all projects in the works and ongoing. Now let’s talk about baseball and the Hillsboro Hops!
The Hillsboro Hops are about to get a big infusion of Cash fron the people of Hillsboro
The Portland Business Journal did a bang-up article on this commitment today and you can read up on that here – https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2022/01/19/hops-bids.html
The Hops are beloved by many but truly they are a small percentage of our population. That is proven by the vast number of empty seats at every game. The new project is bold and brings the Stadium into alignment with what Major League Baseball expects from a farm team. They are not at all a profitable organization from what I read, and it is pretty clear no rationale nor responsible Board of Directors would offer them a $40,000,0000 facilities upgrade using TLT (Hotel / Motel Tax) and a $30,000,000 loan. That loan can not possibly have a guarantee we can count on- if the team perishes so does the money. Anyone watching knows that Mayor Steve Callaway loves the Hops and baseball and this is one of his passions. It is clear this deal would not be done without Mayor Callaway. So it is. Go Baseball- Go Hops!
The list of projects and slides went on and on but the baseball slide, along with the HiLight Internet, just seems a bit much. Those are extravagant window dressings for a city that has ground it out to get where we are. Those are things we get to spend on when we are having a good decade or two. And we have done that. But tough times could be right around the corner and then what? It has been a long time since Hillsboro has had to tighten the purse strings or let any employees go, let alone cut parks or services.
So think about that – $40,000,000. Would you put debt on your house for that? Maybe you would, we would not.
Baseball VS The #HillsboroFire
Here is a photo of my view and it has been for almost 3 weeks now- my office window looks out onto a wire cage and a solid plywood wall 3 feet from the blue dot. We call it Stalag 13 jokingly, but it feels like a prison from our view. This situation is the aftermath of what happened on Jan. 2nd, 2022 when an arson torched the Weil’s Department store and destroyed the businesses and 1/2 the block. The entire block has been closed ever since, and any businesses that are open in the area are reporting to the Herald that business is down an average of 80%. After two years of Covid that spelled catastrophe.
Meetings were had, speeches of a comeback were offered, and social media came alive before the fire even died down with wishes of support. That lasted about a week and then just like the flames it has died down too. My contemporaries are worried. Some quietly wait for customers who are not coming. Two have now told me it is all but over. To this night no money has been offered from the City nor the fundraising that is happening. Some are hoping and praying the City is going to come to the rescue. But can they? The answers we have received so far are simply that the money is not laying around to give.
A Treasure Chest In ARPA Money
Many of the proposed Capital Projects are being funded by are ARPA funds. It turns out that the American Rescue Plan has placed over $18,000,000 into the City coiffures. That money can be used for almost anything as long as some sort of connection can be drawn to Covid or some after effect of Covid. In the work session, Mayor Callaway asked if ARPA money could be used for Fire relief. Awesome question by Mayor Steve who clearly is trying to figure out where to find money to help out. Head of Economic Development Dan Dias answered firmly stating that “It would be tough to make any connection between COVID and the Fire but that could potentially be done”. Shortly after that, we saw slide after slide of projects that ARPA could or would be used for.
Here is a taste for you all:
- Celebration of Latin-X Dance – $60,000
- Cultural Arts District Murals – $45,000
- Expanded Sevices in Shute Park area – $3,000,000
- Waive Connection Fees For HiLight – $240,000
- Community Clean Up Projects – $140,000
- Homelessness Related Projects- $4,250,000
- Community Outreach Projects $3,870,000
The list goes on and on.
The whole night I waited – about 2 hours and 30 minutes online in that lonely zoom meeting just waiting for my chance to speak. Awash in the budget, the $750,000,000 presentation, the debt we are accruing, increasing housing costs, increasing water and sewer and gasoline costs, food costs out of control, and the COVID pandemic striking down young and old… I had a moment of clarity. Not that I am not clear on things because I am. But it hit me.
Baseball VS Fire – the face of this battle we face in this city is
Baseball VS Fire.
If you are reading this I hope to God you see what I see. $40,000,000 million dollars in a baseball stadium and project debt and not a damn dime for Gimre’s Shoes, Thai House, Arcade 2084, Artful Garden, Oaxaca, or Rustic Renditions. No money for small consultants like my co-tenant at Rivers Edge Insurance nor for me. None for the Jensen Law Firm who had to move, nor the lawyers and consultants who were burned out above Weil’s. Nothing for IMPACT Jiu-Jitsu who were torched and are now scrambling to move. The barbers and jewelers and other small firms all tell me they have heard nothing. Crystal Heart, The Venetian, LaHaies, Pupper Nickel, Bennett’s. And there are many more I can not report on as they have closed or are not available.
Here is my point, and this is aimed at City Hall. Grab a checkbook, move some of that ARPA money, and call it the COVID FIRE RELIEF FUND. It doesn’t have to be $40,000,000, not $10,000,000 nor does it have to be $1 million. But with no sales and no reserves these hard-working people of Hillsboro, who do nothing but smile and soldier on, deserve a hell of a lot more from all of you and our City than $0. Here is where I am at, forget #Baseball for now. The City closed the streets, they had to. But that closure better not lead to the closure of these businesses on your watch.
Help these people- do it now. There is no more time to wait. Here is my attempt to make an impression into the box that does not speak back. I will keep on trying for anyone in our town in need to see that they are treated equitably. #HillsboroStrongForever