A close look at what might be in $300M Salem infrastructure bond

2022-05-14 22:26:05 By : Ms. xiangdi li

Neglected sidewalks, bridges in disrepair, fire trucks and branch libraries are on the wish list of city officials aiming to put a $300 million bond on the ballot this November.

The bond will come up for a vote just as previous bond measures retire and are removed from the tax rolls — meaning the new bond would not increase residents' tax rates.

More than two-thirds of residents surveyed rate Salem's infrastructure as poor or very poor, and many say it is getting worse.

City officials hope to address this critical need in the community through the bond, which would be able to solely fund infrastructure improvements — not things like increased staffing or large-scale projects like the Salem River Crossing.

After gleaning project ideas from neighborhood associations, advisory boards, commissions, civic interest groups and public testimony, the Infrastructure Bond Engagement Steering Committee crafted a bond proposal that is set to go before Salem City Council during a work session May 16.

Depending on the work session discussion, a bond proposal could be ready for City Council approval at the May 23 meeting. A vote on the bond would go before Salem voters in the 2022 November general election.

City officials said the projects proposed could ultimately save the city money that is currently spent on repairs and maintenance of outdated facilities and by improving energy efficiency.

If the bond measure is not passed by voters, the need will not go away, city officials said.

"The city will continue to have infrastructure needs that are greater than the current available resources," staff said in a summary of the bond.

The proposal includes improvements to streets, sidewalks and parks, investments in new affordable housing with a branch library at two sites, fire engines and equipment, earthquake safety for the Salem Civic Center and cybersecurity improvements to protect residents and services relying on technology. 

A new playground, repaired street or trail might be coming to your neighborhood. Here's a close look at the proposed bond projects:

The community's transportation needs still exceed available funding even after improvements made from the 2008 bond, city officials said.

With community input, a new list of priority projects was developed in hopes of providing safer pedestrian crossings and installing sidewalks and safe bicycle routes, constructing new streets and replacing or adding signals that improve traffic flow, and repairing bridges throughout the community.

Some of the key roadways highlighted for improvement include River Road, McGilchrist Street SE, Doaks Ferry Road NW, Battle Creek Road SE, Browning Avenue S, Fischer Road NE, and Sunnyview Avenue NE.

"As we plan for the next 10 years, building two branch libraries and more affordable housing will be critical to livability in our community," city officials said.

The funds from the bond would be used to acquire properties and begin the development of two branch libraries on the same site of affordable housing complexes.

The branches would be in addition to the Salem Public Library's main branch in downtown Salem, which reopened last year following seismic upgrades and renovations.

City officials said Salem's well-used park system needs upgrades.

Replacing restrooms at Marion Square and Wallace Marine parks and developing new trails, covered areas, playgrounds, splash pads, pickleball courts and dog parks are among the projects highlighted.

"The goal is to make up-to-date park facilities available in all parts of the city, for all ages," staff said.

The money would be used to provide gap funding to public and private developers to build affordable housing.

"Gap" funding could be used to offset project cost increases due to supply chain impacts, inflation, rising interest rates or other cost increases that can occur over a multi-year project development cycle.

City officials said the funds are only for projects that will meet affordability criteria, like programs that target rents at the 80% average median income level in the region.

Fire officials said more stations and staff are needed to provide timely responses during fires, crashes and medical emergencies.

To meet the national standard of five minutes for medical emergencies and five minutes, 20 seconds for fires, Salem Fire Chief Mike Niblock said, the department would need to add 10 fire stations and 111 firefighters — a change that would cost the city an additional $25 million a year.

Another, cheaper option under consideration is moving Station 8 at the Chemeketa Community College campus north to Portland Road and adding four new stations to better serve south, southeast and north Salem. That construction, along with adding 45 firefighters, would cost $12 million a year and is anticipated to help them meet the goal 80% of the time. 

Salem's fire engines, purchased with 2006 bond funds, are 15 years old and have already reached the threshold of "motor hours" equivalence to 450,000 road miles, according to city officials.

"Despite excellent maintenance, the fire engines and other life-saving equipment are in urgent need of replacement," officials said.

The funds would replace 17 engines. The estimated funds would also include three ladder trucks, replacement of rescue tools like the “jaws of life” and defibrillators, two medic units, four battalion vehicles and other vehicles for needs specific to heavy rescue, medium rescue, airfield rescue and firefighting, air support, and wildland grass fire.

The Civic Center, which houses City Council chambers, municipal court and many city offices, was built 50 years ago. The city's most visited public building, the center needs seismic upgrades to ensure safety and public accessibility, city officials said.

The funding would reinforce all three buildings to a life-safety standard and allow for a "higher probability of a safe exit during an earthquake." 

The funding would replace out-of-date financial reporting and accounting systems, as well as provide for a second data center for recovery after a disaster and redundant fiber ring for resiliency.

For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at wmwoodworth@statesmanjournal.com, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth.