Next week, Councilor Richard Walsh ends his second full term on the Keizer City Council.
Last week Walsh discussed his greatest accomplishments and biggest disappointments. This week he talks about the city’s future, as well as his own.
Keizertimes: A lot of people consider you a frontrunner for mayor if Lore Christopher decides not to run again. Is that something you want to do?
Richard Walsh: “If she decides not to run … if the best thing I can do is serve as mayor I’d be happy to do that. If I feel at that time, whenever that is, I’d be better served in a different capacity, being on the parks board or whatever, I’d do that. I certainly haven’t ruled anything out.”
KT: In the meantime, what are some of the issues you want to advocate for, and how do you plan to do it?
“One of the things I’m looking forward to, instead of being divided among every issue that involves Keizer, I can focus in on some areas where I feel I can make the biggest impact with the time that I have available. I think some of the areas where that has a big impact is in the area of parks. That’s why I volunteered for the parks board. I think parks are important to a community far beyond just the simple, obvious green space and a place to play. I think it has an important role in, you know, the framework of the entire social environment. And I think it has a role in reducing crime. If you were to have the choice between 41 police officers and absolutely no park system whatsoever, and 40 or 39 police officers and a fully-functioning park system, I think the latter would be better in terms of crime prevention.”
KT: What’s going to be your goal (on the parks board) besides keeping toilets in parks?
RW: “Parks is an area where, you know, it’s probably most notable for the amount of volunteers involved with the various projects. … And there’s so much information I know about the different players, the different grants, the different parks we have in our community, I feel like it would be a shame if I just walked into the sunset and didn’t share that information.”
KT: How stable do you think the city is long-term with the tax base you have?
RW: “I think we have a fundamental problem with the tax structure in this city, but it’s not unique to Keizer. We have a fundamental problem with every city in Oregon. And that is the personnel costs are rising faster than the income to the cities. And when that happens we have to do one of two things: We have to cut services or raise taxes. And that’s a horrible situation to be in.
“One of my biggest disappointments is I haven’t been able to find a solution to that problem at the local level. I think the real solution is at the state level, and perhaps even at the federal level. Things like prevailing wage laws, some of the union – although I love the unions and I don’t want to (laughs) … I don’t want to, you know, unnecessarily rile people up over this.
“But the fundamental fact is personnel costs are rising at a rate higher than the income increasing to the city. If we could match the personnel increases with the same percentage as the city’s general fund revenue increase from taxes – and if you look at the entire general fund base, and figure out how much that is going up, and if you could limit the amount of personnel rate increases by the same number – you never go higher than that – then we would be stable forever. But we just can’t do that. … We had some very innovative approaches that we took a couple of years ago with benefit packages and so on. I thought it was fair … And the arbitrator said it wasn’t good under the state rules, so we lost that arbitration. And with that came a realization the problem is bigger than Keizer alone can deal with.”
KT: This was police?
RW: “This was the police contract that we had a few years ago. We had some provisions in there to cap the amount of additional medical benefits and other benefits by the CPIM (Consumer Price Index Medical), first it was the CPIW (Consumer Price Index Wages) and then the CPIM. We basically capped the increases by that amount, so we had to live within that means. It actually worked very well because a lot of people who were double-insured decided to more tailor-make their total insurance package to their individual needs rather than just everyone getting the maximum. Except the arbitrator said this isn’t normal, so because it’s not normal you can’t do it. And because of that our rates went back up out of control.
KT: Going back to city amenities, what if anything do you feel Keizerites miss out on by not having a public library?
“I think that we are within grasp of potentially having the best, most cost-efficient, most cost-effective volunteer library this side of the Mississippi River. … That’s one of the things I’m continuing to work on, even after council, to see if there isn’t some way to have a win-win where we can have an all-volunteer library … in much the same way we have a volunteer little league, and Keizer Youth Sports Association – organizations that provide for, you know, baseball and softball opportunities for our kids. Those are not government employees doing that but we help provide facilities and some support. … I think the important thing, once again, for the library is to find a way to have a permanent base, a permanent home, and we can build from that. And I think we’re close to finding some solutions there also.”
KT: Will the gas-fired power plant ever get built?
RW: “There’s nothing I’m aware of that would indicate it will happen in the foreseeable, immediate future. But I’m not in the inner loop on the people trying to bring those things to Keizer. We were approached, what was it, a year ago? And we asked them some questions, and I was waiting for them to come back with the answers, and they haven’t come back with all the answers to my satisfaction.”