By JEFF ST. PETER
City of Brookings officials this week said they believe the city benefitted from the latest session of the Oregon Legislature.
Mayor Bob Hagbom and City Manager Leroy Blodgett both felt the city did well with legislation that was enacted, and proposed legislation that died.
The city was especially pleased with the increased funding for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
?We probably benefitted more by bills not being passed,? Blodgett said, ?with the exception of ODOT.
?The ODOT money will allow us to take the couplet project off the back burner. We might be able to take a serious look at it again now.?
Blodgett was referring to a project that has been in the works with ODOT for at least 10 years, he said.
The couplet would make traffic through downtown Brookings on U.S. 101 flow north one-way from just north of the Chetco River Bridge to just north of Fifth Street. Traffic heading south through the community would run one-way on Railroad Street.
Blodgett said the most recent estimate of the cost for the couplet project is approximately $12 million, and he believes with the $400 million allocated to ODOT that it?s time to move forward.
?The city will actively pursue the funding,? he said. ?For years the city and the state haven?t had the funding for a project this big.
?ODOT has consistently said this is a great project and they originally came up with the idea.
?It simply comes down to they didn?t have the money in the past, but now?s the chance. We need to get the downtown master plan done so we can tap into that (ODOT) money.?
Hagbom was especially pleased with the 11th hour funds appropriated for a Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC) building project.
Sen. Ken Messerle, R-Coos Bay, and Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, were able to get the school $1 million during the last days of the 2001 legislative session.
?The boost given to SWOCC on the last days will be a real help to the community,? Hagbom said.
Both Hagbom and Blodgett were appreciative of the efforts of the local legislators.
?The legislators responded exceptionally well and were on target with our thinking,? Hagbom said. ?They were much better in tune with us.?
Blodgett said weekly conference calls with Messerle and Krieger helped with that.
?It helped us to keep each other informed of what was going on in Salem,? he said.
One area the city always watches during legislative sessions is protecting local autonomy.
Blodgett said one failed measure shows that the League of Oregon Cities, which lobbies for Brookings and other communities in the state, was doing its job in protecting local authority.
?A bill to add restrictions to the statewide room tax failed,? he said.
?It would have restricted the use of any local increases in the room tax to promotion only, leaving us unable to allocate some of the funds to necessary projects outside the realm of local promotion.
?Any stipulation like this that would limit local authority or use of funds is something we would oppose.?
Hagbom said, ?This stipulation on the room tax wouldn?t have allowed us to use the money for things like youth activities.
?It was not so much the tax issue that bothered us, it was the stipulations that would have handcuffed our ability to use the money.?
Blodgett said a change in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will save the city some money.
?The PERS savings, by pooling with the state, was a good move for our taxpayers,? he said. ?It will save us about 2 percent or $25,000 annually.?
The mayor gave the 2001 Legislature a good grade for its efforts.
?Overall, I didn?t feel bad about this legislature,? he said. ?The schools always want more, but I think we came out OK this time.?