Salem voters next month will decide whether to fund repairs to streets and build new roads, replace aging fire trucks, improve parks and buy land for branch libraries and affordable housing over the next decade.
The city is seeking voter approval in the November general election for a $300 million infrastructure spending package, which would be paid for by issuing bonds paid back with property taxes over the next 30 years.
Salem has other bonds from older projects that are being paid off, so the measure won’t raise property tax rates if it passes. The city’s bond rate would remain at $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value for Salem property owners.
If the measure fails, property owners would see their city bond tax rate fall to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value as voters continue to pay off other city projects.
Salem voters last approved two bond measures in 2017: a $62 million package in May to fund construction of a new police station, and a $18.6 million measure in November to pay for seismic upgrades and improvements at the Salem Public Library. The city’s last measure to fund street improvements was in 2006.
The infrastructure package appears on the ballot as Measure 24-474. Here’s what’s included.
Streets and sidewalks
The bulk of the money, $157 million, would be spent to repair bridges and roads, improve signs, add pedestrian crossings and bike lanes on some streets and repair sidewalks.
The plan designates money for some specific projects, but would also set aside a pot of funds to be used for general purposes like sidewalk repair, with specific fixes to be determined at a later date.
One of the major projects spelled out is the $23 million construction of Marine Drive Northwest in west Salem. The new street would run from Harritt Drive Northwest to Taybin Road Northwest and include a new pedestrian and bike path connected to Wallace Marine Park.
Another is improvements to a one-mile stretch of Davis Road in south Salem, a $7.6 million project. The package calls for adding sidewalk along the road from South Skyline Drive to South Liberty Road, an area of Salem that’s seen significant housing development in recent years and is a walking route for many students to nearby Crossler Middle School.
Several projects to improve bike and pedestrian mobility in Salem are included. A pavement repair project on State Street would add a center turn lane and bike lanes from Northeast 13th to 17th streets, and a pedestrian crossing at Northeast 15th Street. The package also includes a new pedestrian bridge across Pringle Creek and path along the creek connecting Commercial Street to Riverfront Park.
About $28 million is earmarked for improvements to city parks.
Ten city parks would get new playground equipment: Royal Oaks, Livingston, McKay, Morningside, Aldrich, Riverfront, Woodmansee, Brush College, Minto Brown Island and Clark Creek.
Tennis and pickleball courts would be added at Highland, Hoover and River Road parks.
Two parks would get new bathrooms — Northgate Park, where a local parent council began organizing large Friday community events last summer, and McKay School Park. Restrooms at Bush’s Pasture Park, Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway Park would be replaced.
There would also be a pot of money for park trail improvements, with specific projects to be determined later.
Fire trucks and stations
The measure would replace Salem’s entire fleet of fire trucks, last replaced in 2006, at a cost of $26 million. That includes 17 engines, 3 ladder trucks, 2 medic units, 4 battalion vehicles, 1 heavy rescue vehicle, 1 medium rescue vehicle, 1 airfield rescue vehicle, 1 air support vehicle, 2 wildland grass fire vehicles and rescue tools and defibrillators, city spokeswoman Courtney Knox Busch said.
The city’s current trucks have over 400,000 miles on them and are at the end of their 15-year life, fire Chief Mike Niblock previously told Salem Reporter. As a result, maintenance costs have soared in recent years, with the department spending $895,000 during the 2019-20 fiscal year on repairs.
The package also sets aside $14 million to buy land for and build two new fire stations to respond to increasing call volumes and better serve growing areas of the city.
The plan calls for $7.5 million to buy land for two buildings that would have a city library branch on the ground floor with affordable housing above it.
Salem doesn’t have money operate additional libraries or fire stations, but city councilors said at the time they advanced the bond that they’d work to seek such funding in the coming years if the package is approved.
Another $10 million would be set aside for developers to build housing affordable to low-income people and families.
The bond includes $39.5 million for seismic upgrades to Salem’s Civic Center, the 50-year-old City Hall in central Salem.
Finally, $17.6 million would be spent on technology and cybersecurity to replace outdated financial systems and create a second data center for recovery after a natural disaster.
Who’s supporting it
The measure is supported by the Yes on Streets, Safety and Livability Political Action Committee, which had received $19,100 in contributions as of Tuesday.
The bulk of the funding, $15,000, is from the Mountain West Investment Corp.
(Disclosure: Larry Tokarski, Mountain West president, is also a co-founder of Salem Reporter.)
Salem city councilors, including Mayor Chuck Bennett, unanimously supported putting the measure on the ballot.
The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors has endorsed the measure, and Chamber CEO Tom Hoffert said he’s going on a “speaking tour” with Mayor-Elect Chris Hoy at various civic and community group meetings to advocate for its passage.
“The Salem Chamber carefully analyzes each local bond package brought forth to the Salem community,” Hoffert said in an email. “No one singular advocacy group received all of their ‘wish list’ items in this package. Instead, there will be numerous regional projects across all City Wards to improve conductivity in arterials and neighborhoods.”
There is no organized opposition campaign or political action committee according to state campaign finance records.
Correction: This article originally misstated the rate at which property taxes are calculated. They are per $1,000 of assessed property value, not per $100,000.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.