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Next Monday, August 10th, Salem City Council will vote whether to sell control of almost 200 acres of Minto Brown Island Park to a federal agency (USDA) for over $800,000 in federal stimulus funds. Here are four questions we should hear the answers to before the City Council votes.
1) Why didn't the City tell us this was happening?
No notice has been posted in the Park to tell users that the City is about to make a decision to permanently change the use of 200 acres of City owned land.
The City Council approved applying for the stimulus funds on April 6, 2009, but has not posted a public notice in the Park. Four months is plenty of time for public notice, but Salem officials chose not to post any notices for park users. Before the City Council decides to sell off local control of parkland, they should post public notices at park entrances. Why hasn't the City told park users they might change the use of 200 acres?
There are 19 Neighborhood Associations in Salem. More than a dozen were not given the chance to hear about this proposal before the August 10 vote. Why didn't city officials tell the other Neighborhood Associations about this proposal?
2) Why don't they tell us what the $800K will be used for?
The proposal before the City Council does not specify how the money will be spent. The City budget for this year has been approved and the use of this funding would be unrestricted. City staff have said that the "staff recommendation" is to use the funds to benefit parks, but have not provided details and this is not part of the proposal on Monday.
3) Why don't we know what will happen to that acreage?
Federal agencies will decide the management plan for the almost 200 acres and the City will be required to follow it. One requirement of the easement is that paved bike paths and trails will never be allowed in the easement areas. The City will not know what is in the management plan before the vote and the federal agencies can change the plan at any time in the future.
There is lots of talk about unfunded federal mandates. The City now controls the property. If the City sells the easement, then it no longer has local control. Once the stimulus funding is gone, then there will be federal control and no funding.
4) How will Salem afford to maintain the easement area forever?
The USDA will only pay to maintain the easement areas for 3 years. For the next 3, 33, and 333 years, Salem will have to pay for upkeep. Today, the land is open space maintained at no cost to the City. How can Salem afford to maintain this land in the future? Salem's own council-appointed Parks and Recreation Advisory Board reviewed the idea and voted unanimously against approving the easement. The Parks Board found the deal was not in Salem's long-term interest.
Concerned? You have options before the City Council votes. Call or write the Mayor, City Council and City Manager (Citycouncil@cityofsalem.net or 503-588-6159). And you can speak out at the City Council meeting on Monday, August 10. The meeting begins at 6:30 and your last opportunity for public comment will be near the beginning of the agenda. Thank you!