MONMOUTH -- There were 8,310 people living in Monmouth in 1999. A year later, there were still 8,310.
No more. No less.
Monmouth Mayor Paul Evans is concerned. Quality of life in a small town costs money and the price is going up. Without growth and development to pick up the tab, he said, the town is in trouble.
"For years, we have maintained our city services through disciplined financing and reliance upon noncommercial residential taxes," Evans said.
"We have managed to keep things together on a shoestring and smile."
To keep taxes reasonable, Monmouth needs new business. "In fact, we needed it yesterday," Evans said.
Evans made his remarks to the Monmouth-Independence Rotary Club Jan. 25 as part of his annual state-of-the-city.
Monmouth these days reminds him of the classic Charles Dickens novel "A Tale of Two Cities," Evans said.
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
The people of Monmouth have accomplished a lot during the past year, he said. Many of the accomplishments have been in alliance with neighbors in Independence.
"We worked together to provide Boise Cascade the incentives necessary for them to rebuild after an eco-terrorist attack," Evans said.
Officials from both cities also worked together to get state funding for a bridge for 16th street that will eventually connect Monmouth Street and Hoffman Road.
A youth summit is planned for the middle of March.
The past year has been full of good news for Monmouth, Evans said. The community's downtown development plan has started. "The first of what will be many new light posts is shining in Main Street Park," Evans said. "It is a beacon leading the way for what will come."
What will come, under the plan, is a number of Victorian-style touches designed to give a sense of style to the downtown area.
City officials are also working to make the town ready for the age of fiber optics.
Members of the Monmouth Legacy Forest Association are helping beautify the area around Highway 99W and the rest of the community by planting trees.
"We are working on building an urban forestry culture here in our town," Evans said.
Now the bad news.
"Downtown is in crisis," he said. Businesses have closed and have not been replaced.
What's more, officials at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Practices are thinking about moving the police academy from Monmouth to Salem.
"Monmouth has experienced a dramatic and undeniable downward shift in development," Evans said. "We have stagnant growth in the one sector of our economy that has been the mainstay for the past half decade."
Many Western Oregon University students can't find multiple-family housing. "So our traditional residential areas are undergoing involuntary transition," Evans said.
In short, people are starting to leave Monmouth. "As a package, these things are a threat to our future."
None of this comes as a surprise, Evans said. He has been talking to a lot of local residents about the endangered business district and the effects of stagnant growth.
"While Monmouth is far from terminal, urgent care is needed."
What Monmouth needs, Evans said, is the development of specific kinds of downtown businesses such as restaurants, entertainment facilities and retail stores.
The debate over whether or not alcohol should be sold in Monmouth plays a role in all this, Evans said. But only a very, very small role.
"Much like the 800-pound gorilla, the alcohol issue is omnipresent but seldom talked about in public forums. While some in our community believe the wet/dry issue is the panacea, it is not."
Prohibition obviously puts Monmouth at a disadvantage, Evans said, but there's a lot more hurting local business than the ability to serve beer and wine.
"It is a potential policy choice and, as such, it warrants future discussion, analysis and rational debate. But it is not my issue. And it is not the most important challenge we face."
It really isn't much of an issue right now, he said. It can't even make it to the ballot until a year from November.
"We are up to our backsides in alligators," Evans said. "We must focus. We must remember that our intent is to revitalize our business district which, in turn, will strengthen our community."
City officials already have several plans in place, Evans said. "We know what we want. The time has come for action."
Evans has several proposals for dealing with economic development in Monmouth.
First, he wants the town to have an "action officer" who does nothing but work on development issues.
This person would either by a paid city staffer or a contractor paid with outside grant money. Either way, Evans said, "we need a person solely dedicated to using the tools we have on hand to build our dreams."
Evans also wants to see a "Quality of Life" initiative on the ballot. The initiative would be short on specifics, but it would make quality of life the guiding criteria for City decisions.
"This may provide our planning commission with increased flexibility as well as provide residents and students with a clearer understanding of our shared rights and responsibilities as citizens of Monmouth," Evans said.
Beautification of the area around Highway 99W is another priority for the mayor. Despite limited local money, Evans envisions getting projects done through partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
Highway beautification will be one of the major issues Evans will address during a forum at Monmouth City Hall from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 10.
Lastly, Evans said he plans to emphasize getting Monmouth ready for the 21st century by encouraging an infrastructure that allows for fiber optics and other high-tech advances.
"If we can make this community a silicon village, then we must do everything we can to make it so."