About a month ago over on my Instagram page I asked my followers if they’d be interested in hearing a monthly recap of my Leadership Corvallis classes and I was met with a resounding “yes”. For people outside our area this may not be very interesting but I think for my fellow Corvallis residents the information I am learning will peak some interest.
First off, I’m sure some of you are wondering what Leadership Corvallis is! Following a year long program, it is a monthly session designed around teaching people how our community functions with a focus on building future community leaders. Each session has a different focus ranging from health care to education to the arts, etc. Every participant has to apply to get into the class, acquire recommendations, and, upon being accepted, pay a tuition fee.
Our first session, which met in September, focused on getting to know each other and learn more about the overall program. One of my favorite parts of the day was a leadership training that had us write out our core values and then share them in groups. I’ve never done anything like that before and I found it both challenging and reassuring in the sense that I am setting realistic goals in my life to work towards being the person I hope to be someday. Forever challenging and refining myself, embracing my strengths and working on my shortcomings. I’m hoping to share them with you all soon and maybe encourage you to do a similar exercise.
Last Thursday I attended the second session, which focused on Corvallis/Benton County government and public services. I will try to be concise with my overview and what I learned, but I have to say that I found this day to be incredibly interesting and could probably write a novel on everything I learned! For the sake of time and also because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t read a novel on Corvallis Public Services, I present to you five key points I took away from the day:
In the morning we heard from our city manager, Mark Shepard, and county manager, Joe Kerby. A few interesting numbers: The city of Corvallis employs a total of 435 people, one of the larger employers in our area. Out of 36 counties in Oregon, Benton County is one of the smaller ones covering a total of 700 square miles. We are a charter county, which means that our laws are set by our local government versus a statutory county which means that the laws are set by the state. There are fewer charter counties in Oregon, but Kerby said that he considers charter counties to be at an advantage because they have more control of what happens within their boundaries.
Our city councilors are set up quite differently than other similar sized cities and it seems to be the consensus of people I have talked to that this is not for the better. Most cities our size have anywhere from 3-7 councilors set up on 4-year terms, while we have 9 councilors who serve 2-year terms. That means that every two years, all nine seats are up for grabs. Two years is simply not long enough to be established in these incredibly important positions within our local government. Other cities rotate every two years which seats are open, meaning they serve 4-year terms but the makeup of the council changes partway through their term. From what I have gathered our city council seems to have been made the way it is due to HP opening in Corvallis some 45+ years ago and the local residents wanting to have control over what was happening within their local government. I don’t believe the way it is operated now is beneficial to our residents and I would venture to say that running an election every two years for nine seats and then spending time training the new councilors is a misuse of taxpayers money. On top of everything, it is a volunteer position that demands a full work load so only a select group within our city can actually consider running. I would love to see the way in which our city council is operated be challenged and the cost of operations be looked into. Just because it has been run a certain way for decades, does not mean that it is still working for us today in 2018. This is just an overview of what I have learned and I am willing to hear opposing views that think our city council is functional as is.
Before lunch we toured the Benton County Jail, which is located in downtown next to the Benton County Courthouse. I found the tour to be incredibly sobering and informational. In total our jail can host 40 inmates at a time, a combination of men and women. The facility itself was built in the 70’s and meant only to be a temporary solution until a bigger jail was built in our county. With our increase in population both for the city and university, there is simply not enough room to house and accommodate every inmate. They are almost always at full capacity which means there’s a delicate balance of people coming in needing to be jailed for a serious crime and letting people go because they did a lesser crime. People that get released are expected to appear in court for their crime, but 1 in 5 people fail to show. The national benchmark for no-shows is 5%, meaning that we fall short by 15%. To counterbalance our lack of facilities we rent 40 beds from a correctional facility in The Dalles called NORCOR. Considering that our current facility is a “short term” solution that we’ve been using for over 40 years, it will be interesting to see if there is a change on the horizon that would work for both the residents of Benton County and our law enforcement.
In the afternoon we heard from Nancy Brewer, the finance director for the city of Corvallis. She took us through an extremely thorough slideshow of the cities’ budget and how the city determines how much in taxes the residents have to pay. It was incredibly interesting and I think I could have used an entire day to just try to wrap my head around some of the formulas she was flying through! Fifty-two percent of our city budget breaks down into 22 separate funds like law enforcement, fire, parks and rec, etc. Each fund acts like it’s own business, running it’s own budget with the funds it receives. The other 48% goes into a general fund for the city. Another interesting take away that I wish we had more time to breakdown is a state analysis prediction that says Oregon will be in a recession by the 2nd quarter of 2020. Brewer said that this is already being accounted for and the budget has been intentionally buffered for a ‘rainy day’ such as this.
At the end of the day the class went through a mock budget meeting, each person playing a different role and having to defend their budget or cause while giving a solution to a $2 million shortfall within the city annual budget. I had the honor of being the police chief! Earlier in the day I actually got to speak with Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman and pick his brain about the Corvallis Police budget. The overall budget is $16.5 million per year, 70-75% of that going to salaries. There is only a give of about half a million dollars to decide on, everything else is accounted for. There are many things you can’t budget for within a police department, one of them being a homicide which costs at the minimum $80k, but can reach upwards of a million dollars. There is no grace built into the budget to accommodate for this. In addition, another half a million goes solely to paying overtime. The police department is simply understaffed and overworked. Sassaman said that turnover is high because of burnout and that each new employee costs between $120-130k in training during their first year. Applying this to our mock budget meeting seemed simple up front; give the department more money so they can hire more people and alleviate the demand on their current employees. Sassaman also said that shortening the days to ten hours versus the twelve they do now would help with job retention. So in theory making changes that would cost more money upfront could help save in the long run, cutting down the overtime budget and cost of hiring new people. Easier said than done, right? And on paper that might play out, but there are so many other factors to consider. My proposed plan did go through with the budget council, so it’s a win-win for fictional Police Chief Ann Schneider!
If you’ve made it this far, I’m so proud of you! Gold star and a high five from me! To be real though, I’m loving Leadership Corvallis and am learning so much about my city. I’ve always said that whatever place we ended up in, I wanted to be invested in the community and learn it’s ins and outs. Just like with anything, the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know and that drives my curiosity and eagerness to the next level. So here’s to growing, learning, listening, and being open to new perspectives and points of view. Until next month my fellow Corvallians!
All views and opinions within this article are solely my own and do not reflect upon Leadership Corvallis or the people mentioned within.