Congressman Kurt Schrader chats with Cathy Clark, a Keizer city councilor, at a roundtable of area elected officials. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Give us money and get out of our way.

That was the crux of many local leaders’ plea to Congressman Kurt Schrader, who was in town Monday for a roundtable of elected and appointed officials from cities, counties, school districts and other agencies from Keizer to the coast.

Schrader, a second-term Democrat who previously served in both chambers of the Oregon State Legislature, said not to expect much out of Congress this year.

“I’m not sure we’re going to be doing a whole heck of a lot over the next eight or nine months,” Schrader said. “Unlike split control in our state legislature, split control has not worked so well in Washington D.C.”

Rising to the surface were calls for ensuring the Woodburn interchange project gets final funding, along with pleas to help local police agencies and school districts avoid more layoffs and hiring freezes.

Saying the Woodburn project should be a no-brainer, he acknowledged local governments are hard-pressed to pull off such massive undertakings without federal help.

“The cost has just gotten so high to do anything now it’s gotten almost impossible to afford it,” Schrader said. “We do have folks in D.C. who see infrastructure spending as wasteful… I see very few frivolous dollars spent in that area and it’s a way to create immediate jobs and set communities up for long-term success.”

Pete McCallum, a Woodburn city councilor, also pressed Schrader on immigration. While the congressman said he supports “comprehensive reform,” he touted his opposition to mandatory private sector use of the E-Verify system, which Schrader said would have “ended farming in the Willamette Valley.”

But he also acknowledged the emotions that rise to the surface when the mere word of immigration is mentioned, and expressed fears Congress will get little done on the issue in the near future.

School officials from Salem-Keizer and Cascade school districts urged Schrader to continue funding and allow more flexibility in Title I grants, which are given to schools based on the population of low-income students.

“One (reason) is to target kids who need help that don’t come to school prepared for whatever reason,” said Darin Drill, superintendent for Cascade School District.

Keizer City Councilor Cathy Clark pushed for the third bridge proposal in Salem to get consideration. She said the environmental impact study is near completion.

“This particular iteration will hopefully get some traction, but it’s funding,” Clark said. “This is a regional project with regional impact.”

She also asked Schrader to ensure that funding for public, educational and governmental access to television stays in place; fees from cable companies currently pay that bill. Such channels routinely carry civic programming like city council meetings.

“The more eyes we have on our meetings, the better communication we have in our community,” Clark said.

Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan asked Schrader to pursue tax credits for volunteer firefighters, noting that some 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers.

“I’m totally supportive of that,” Schrader said.

Kate Tarter and Marcia Kelly, both of whom serve on the Salem-Keizer Transit (Cherriots) board, urged more funding – or at least no cutting – for public transit.

“Public transit is a way to help people get jobs and stay off of social services,” Tarter said.