JAN. 19, 2021
Editor’s note: This is a pared down version of the address delivered on Jan. 19.
The last 12 months have been a wild ride for Dallas and the future sure isn’t going to be boring.
2020 started off calm enough, but soon there were fires, floods, plague and political discord. Main Street became a ghost town, the city closed down, events were canceled as people sheltered at home and our town square saw many unique social interactions. All in all, 2020 was best viewed in our rear-view mirror.
So, on to 2021!
At least for the first half of the year it looks like we’ll be in the dark days of COVID-19. Then probably the virus slows down as fall comes and the vaccines kick in – maybe back to a semblance of normal around early fall depending on such things as the British virus coming our way and our noble proclivity to socially distance, wear our mask, wash our hands and get vaccinated at the first opportunity. But I think once it comes, “normal” will be different. History repeats itself and, as the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 was followed by the Roaring Twenties, so will our Dallas economy enter a post-pandemic booming period of revival, growth and creativity. I believe our job right now is to hold on tight and prepare ourselves for the good times ahead and catch the wave.
If the community is under stress right now, so is the financial footing of major parts of our city government. While our City Hall, library, aquatic center, senior center and more will open back up, our city’s underlying financial situation is not robust and post-COVID-19, will remain hampered.
First, the good news. Fortunately, our basic utilities services – water, sewer, storm drainage — are all on firm financial footing. But, on the downside, our general fund is under growing stress. This means that fire, police, streets, ambulance, library, aquatic center, parks, street lighting and on and on are in penny-pinching mode just to get by.
Why? In short, of the 17 cities in our population class in western Oregon, Dallas offers the most municipal services of any of them, while we paradoxically have the third lowest tax rate and the lowest tax burden of these other cities. Because of our lack of industry and new commercial development, we also lack an adequate tax base because homes, even the new ones, actually pay less in taxes than they receive in city services.
So, in this year’s budget, how do we make ends meet? Find new money? Scale back services? Cut services? Some combination? In this journey back to sustainability we will need lots of input from experts, our members of our City Boards, Commissions and Committees and, importantly, our general public. It will be an important conversation.
Ending on a happier note, Dallas remains much-loved and a great place to live. In the past 140 years, at the census we have never lost population, growing from 670 folks in 1880 to this year’s total approaching 17,000. Together, we will come through all this in great shape to prevail and prosper.
Dallas Mayor Brian Dalton