Season’s Greetings as we move into a new year! As Americans, we celebrate the coming of a new year in many ways across this country. It is a time of both reflection and looking forward to new beginnings.
As I look back over the last year, I recognize the amazing efficacy with which our City Council has operated as a group, as resources to the community and citizen advocates. I want to thank Bob Harlow for his years of community service as a City Councilor and volunteer. We will miss his input and open attitude at the Council Table. I also want to thank the City Council, who – in recent years — has been one of the best groups I have worked with in this city.
Like any other year, 2019 poses challenges and concerns. Some are new and others have been with us since before I first became Mayor in 1998. I hear from members of our community on some of these issues that represent a continuum of opinions.
As the Mayor and a non-voting member (except for breaking a tie) of the Council, part of my job is to communicate with as many of you as possible to understand the community’s concerns and facilitate finding solutions. One reason I love Wheeler is that I have so many ways to accomplish that. Some people regularly attend City Council meetings to provide feedback. However I don’t believe that the loudest voice in the room necessarily represents the greatest number of people. So, with that in mind, I value conversations at the Post Office, local businesses and with neighbors who help me understand what is important to them. I also, as you know, believe in the need for objective data in our decision-making, especially when I have heard repeatedly that there may be a need for change or clarification.
That is why you all received a survey in your last water bill that asked you to weigh in on some tough issues. We learned and confirmed some values that we must clarify moving forward.
Here’s what we found:
- Question One: 21 out of 62 respondents agree or strongly agree that property owners have a right to rent their property out as a short-term rental, while 37 either disagree or strongly disagree.
- Question Two: 39 out of 56 respondents agree or strongly agree that the city needs to regulate the number and the duration of short-term rentals, while only 13 disagree or strongly disagree.
- Question Three: 33 of the 60 respondents agree or strongly agree that short-term rentals negatively impact property rentals, while 15 were neutral and 11 disagree or strongly disagree.
- Question Four: 41 out of 61 respondents agree or strongly agree that short-term rentals negatively impact the safety and problems in the neighborhood, while 14 disagree or strongly disagree. Six remained neutral.
- Question Five: 23 out of 61 respondents agree or strongly agree that the Transient Lodging Tax (TLT) is an important resource to the city’s infrastructure, economy, and services. Six were neutral and 30 disagree or strongly disagree.
So what have we learned? Opinions are split on some issues and, for others, Councils’ directive is clear: We need not decrease the number of days allowed by our ordinance for short-term rentals. The current ordinance limits of two weeks per month, which Council determined was fair, reflects both the desire of property owners who rent property and their neighbors’ desire to limit turn over in our residential areas, as a means of regulation.
Another clear concern is the impact of short-term rentals on public safety. How do we prevent these problems, enforce our ordinance and respond to problems when they do occur? Council will continue to discuss these questions next year. If enforcement is warranted, we will look at our budget to fund extra policing. This will be a challenge, given our very limited budget.
Of primary concerns is the response to the last survey question: Frankly, TLT funds could provide critical funding supporting established community goals. For example, TLTs could improve the bathrooms at Waterfront Park. These facilities serve both fishermen – who provide an important economic base for downtown businesses – and all who live here and enjoy our downtown park.
TLTs may also help upgrade our stormwater drainage infrastructure to prevent flooding along highway 101, which can stop services like food, shelter, mail and medical services. In 2015, we were without drinking water for four days and had to hand deliver water to our neighbors (which we did gladly); medical personnel worked without relief staff, for days on end. As a community, we must collaborate and prepare with Tillamook County and FEMA. Luckily, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has designated Gervais Creek as historically salmon bearing, inviting new partners to the table to address both storm water management how daylighting our creek might mitigate flooding risks and restore our salmon runs. Our Board of Commissioners and other elected officials have worked with the legislature, state government, and others to explore the potential uses for the TLT funding.
Even simple Council tasks can seem slow and cumbersome. The process of governance is slow and requires patience. Local, federal and state laws prescribe how we operate, make decisions, and use resources/funding. We do the best we can to keep issues moving, but some require time to involve the whole community.
2019 represents much work for our community, yet we should appreciate the progress so far toward our goals. This newsletter addresses a few subjects Council will tackle next year. We look forward to your participation in meetings, workshops, town halls, surveys and requests for feedback. We offer many opportunities for constructive involvement as we shepherd our community into a very bright future.
Happy New Year Wheeler! Here’s to our little town!
January 15: City Council @ 7 p.m.
7th: Planning Commission Meeting @ 7:00 p.m.
14th: Parks & Recreation Meeting @ 10:00 a.m.
19th: City Council Meeting @ 7:00 p.m.
– Mayor Stevie Burden