The city of Woodland has a choice in front of them — peanut butter and jelly or a turkey sandwich.
That was the crux of an anecdote by Mayor Will Finn during a State of the City Address at Woodland High School Feb. 13. He recounted the story of his son, Liam, on a school morning, waiting until getting to the front door to announce he didn’t want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. By then it was too late — he had missed his opportunity to change the result of his lunch in the morning while his mother was preparing lunches.
Right now, the city has its ears open and is making sandwiches, or rather laying the foundation for success in the coming years, and citizens need to be heard now to help steer what Woodland becomes.
“If you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, great; because that’s what we are making right now,” Finn said. “If you don’t and you want a turkey sandwich, now is your opportunity to step forward and let us know before it is too late when you are walking out the door, because at that point the job’s been done, the bag’s been packed and we are moving forward.”
The anecdote finished off the mayor’s speech, the first of such State of the City addresses he has done since assuming the role in 2016. He said that now, two years in, he was able to give the citizens a solid report on how the city has worked to improve itself in that time.
“When I took office in 2016 it was a very troubling time in the city of Woodland,” Finn remarked, mentioning many lawsuits, employee grievances, distrust from council members, and an “extremely negative” perception of the city by business leaders.
“I am happy to finally report to you tonight that after two years we are moving on and making outstanding strides in a positive direction,” Finn said, mentioning many settled lawsuits, a mended relationship between the city council and city hall and a business community that is “back at the table” with local government.
Finn recounted some of the changes that have occurred in the city since 2016, including bringing a city administrator on board, reworking the public works department, creating the community development department, developing a more robust employee safety program and delivering a balanced operating budget, the last development being something “never seen before by many long-standing council members.”
The following year also brought significant developments, as in 2017 the city upgraded parks, repaved Old Pacific Highway from East Scott Avenue to Interstate 5’s Exit 22, constructed the Beechwood Street sidewalk as well as a new fire station on the east side of the city, among other accomplishments.
“All of those wonderful things are great, but we are still facing many challenges within our city,” Finn said.
Financially, operating costs were on the rise while revenue sources were not keeping up. Finn spoke of the give-and-take that occurs when choosing where funds go, admonishing that “who will benefit and who will suffer is always the question that has to be answered before that decision can be made.”
Highlighting that give-and-take were a few unsuccessful pushes the city has had in the past two years, such as the need to create a more robust public safety program including improvements to the police department. Woodland has asked unsuccessfully of voters for additional funding by way of different taxes in the past few years.
“City council has made this a top priority for 2018, and I fully support their efforts to find solutions for our police,” Finn said, adding that one way the city would look for a solution would be by bringing on an outside source to provide an organizational assessment of the department.
Finn also mentioned a failed sales tax increase that would benefit transportation infrastructure needs in the city. For 2018 the city will be seeking funding from outside sources to meet those needs, he said.
City tasks for 2018
Finn said that for this year each city department would be taking on additional foundational work. Recently-appointed Community Development Director Travis Goddard would be working with the city’s planning commission to update city codes to make sure it meets the goals of the city’s comprehensive growth management plan.
The clerk-treasurer’s office would have an outside organizational assessment of the department, Finn said, adding that working on the city’s fee schedule to align better with citizens was another task for the office this year.
For the public works department a major water treatment facility upgrade is planned for this year, Finn said.
“That will ensure that every time you turn on the faucet or flush the toilet you will have clean water,” Finn said, stressing the importance of the project to the city.
Other public works-focused tasks would be a sewer rate assessment and a feasibility study of 426 acres on the west side of town set aside for light industrial uses which he said would be “a roadmap to development of the Lewis River Valley Industrial Park,” a joint project between the city and the Port of Woodland.
City Administrator Pete Boyce would be tasked with crafting an improved budget process, Finn said, streamlining the council’s process while also making the work more understandable to the public. Boyce would also be drafting a five-year financial projection for city stability, as well as a housing development strategy.
“On my desk is an entire other list of items that I’m working on,” Finn said, mentioning a few tasks such as working on getting all city departments under one roof with a new city hall, eyeing public-private partnerships to meet that end. He also had plans for a new communication strategy featuring town hall-style meetings with councilors who sit on committees that steer departmental action.
Change the mindset
For all of the foundational plans to be laid out in the coming years, Finn acknowledged pushback from the public.
“At times, because of our rich history and attachment to our roots, we put up roadblocks which have a negative impact for growth,” Finn said, commenting that the city was “on the verge of a growth explosion”
“If our way of doing business is not changed, we will continue to have the same experiences, never growing, over and over and over again — we must change our mindset,” Finn remarked.
Finn said the changes might not be visible in the next few years but assured that work was being done behind the scenes to lay a foundation for success. He acknowledged a common complaint from the public that has centered around comparing the city to others in the area that seem to be succeeding where Woodland fails.
Finn stressed the importance of having a vision and being able to lay the groundwork to get to those successes.
“This was not an easy task for those cities to do, and we need to remember that,” Finn said. “The reason that they are being successful today is because of all the hard work that they did behind the scenes leading up to what we are seeing now.”
“We must change our mindset and stop worrying about those that are outside, criticizing us,” Finn said. “When you listen to negativity, you will start to believe it and you will lose your nerve.”
Finn made a request of the citizens gathered — get involved.
“I’m asking you to look within yourselves as a community and give something back, whether it be monetarily, time or your talent,” Finn said. “What I’m asking you to do is to step up, and don’t idle and be a volunteer victim to our future.”