Tale of two cities: They're definitely growing

Mayors know how to put a good face on everything in general and the progress of their towns in particular. You'd expect nothing less.

But when Larry Dalton and John McArdle talk about Monmouth and Independence as growing cities, it's much more than idle chatter. As they outlined last week in their annual "State of the Cities" presentations, the communities are thriving now and will plan for more of the same.

"Our residential and downtown growth will be smart growth, and it will be people-friendly right down to such things as more trees and extra parking," Dalton says about Monmouth.

"We're a full-service community. We're a bedroom community to none," McArdle enthuses about Independence.

Both mayors point to the same formula for the communities' success: strong city councils, energetic volunteer boards and civic leaders with foresight.

They also have the residential growth statistics to demonstrate the need for their cities to keep pace. Monmouth added 1,000 building lots in 2005, Dalton said. Independence's population grew by 5 percent in the past 12 months, McArdle noted.

That kind of growth mandates nonstop planning to make sure the cities don't come up short in public works, police protection and other services.

Monmouth, said Dalton, is doing that with its establishment of an urban renewal district, additional citizen boards, a new water filtration plant, and ever-increasing cooperation with Western Oregon University and the City of Independence.

In particular, the mayor said, 2006 will see:

* Implementation of projects under the urban renewal district (URD), which sets aside a portion of property taxes for restoration and improvements. "With it, we can accomplish eight of the 12 projects we have on our agenda," Dalton said. "Without it, we'd have accomplished maybe three.

The URD was approved in December 2005. It will help bring such projects as a new Park Plaza mixed-use building to Main Street (see the Jan. 11 Itemizer-Observer).

* A record number of volunteers helping make decisions. With the creation of a Downtown Parking Task Force and an Arts and Culture Commission, Monmouth's citizen boards now number 15. "I'm excited about that," Dalton said.

* Water quality enhancements. They mayor said design has begun on a plant to keep nitrate content well below warning levels, and it will be operational by the end of the year. "We're always looking for new sources of water as well," Dalton said, to keep up with growth.

* Continued cooperation with WOU and Independence in decision-making and community projects. "The communication we have is tremendous," Dalton said. "We're not islands. We depend on one another, and we've established a network."

In Independence, 2005 was what McArdle called one of the best years in the city's long history. It saw the completion of a multipurpose downtown amphitheater, commitment to building the Ash Creek Trail, completion of a business incubator study, creation of a storm water master plan and $30 million in new construction.

In 2006, he said, Independence will see:

* Completion of the 57,000-square-foot Independence Station, an innovative commerical-professional-condominium building.

* Urban renewal bringing storefront upgrades, street improvements and a dressed-up look for the north entrance to the city on Highway 51.

* The beginning of construction on the Ash Creek Trail, a pedestrian path/bikeway that will run from Riverfront Park all the way to the WOU campus. "Planning is one thing -- we're going to start building," McArdle said.

* Ten more computers for the bustling Independence Public Library, a fountain for the amphitheater, and business expansion to include 100,000 more square feet at the Medallion Cabinets plant.

"Independence has an impatience when it comes to action," McArdle said. "We want to get things done -- and we have fun."

In fact, both mayors began their reports by praising their city councils and city managers for their can-do attitudes. And both expressed their excitement about the start in a few weeks of MInet fiber-optic utility service.

"Not one in 100 cities across the country will provide this kind of service to their residents," McArdle said. "Independence and Monmouth will." (See editorial, Page 4A.)

"MInet," said Dalton, "will be one of the highlights of 2006 for our residents' liveability."

McArdle saved his biggest announcement for last: Construction will begin in March of an eight-screen movie theater on Second Street at the site of the old hop warehouse (see story, Page 1A).

"Before Christmas, when you want to go out for dinner and a movie, and then a walk in the park, you can do it all in downtown Independence, McArdle said.


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