City News

Council to approve city budget, vote on agreement with Willamette University to expand baseball field

On Monday, the Salem City Council will vote to adopt the city’s 2025 budget and take up a controversial agreement that would allow Willamette University to retrofit baseball fields adjacent to Bush’s Pasture Park.  

The city’s agreement with Willamette University for the latter’s use of Spec Keene Stadium, McCulloch Stadium, and Bush’s Pasture Park is part of a broader initiative, along with a for-profit summer baseball league, to expand John Lewis Field. The move has drawn pushback from some neighbors over concerns about parking, noise and other impacts large baseball games could bring.

Councilors will also vote on adding $2 million to the city’s budget for this year to pay for unexpected expenses associated with the city’s assistance of Falck with emergency medical response. 

View the agenda here. 

​​How to participate

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Monday, June 24 and will be both in-person at the council chambers, 555 Liberty St. S.E., and available to watch online. Members of the public can submit a comment for any item on the council agenda.

To comment remotely, sign up on the city website between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday The meeting will be livestreamed on the YouTube in English and Spanish.

For written comments, email [email protected] before 5 p.m. on Monday, or submit on paper to the city recorder’s office at the Civic Center, 555 Liberty St. S.E., Room 225. Include a statement indicating the comment is for the public record.

City to adopt 2025 budget 

On June 24, the city council will adopt a $732 million budget for fiscal year 2025, bringing to a close a grueling year of proposed budget cuts.. The general fund budget, which pays for most city operations, is $188 million.

The final budget proposal cuts parks maintenance, raises fees, and reduces programming at Center 50+ while keeping many popular city services limping along for another year through temporary measures, including drawing on savings.

The committee voted to restore money to avoid further closures of the Salem Public Library.

Last month, the budget committee voted to restore one police department graffiti abatement position and money to keep city splash pads operating over the summer

The price tag for keeping the water running and maintaining the city’s parks was $422,000.

That will allow splash pads in Wes Bennett, Fairmount, Englewood, West Salem, Northgate and River Road parks to continue operating this summer.

The recommended budget includes an extra $96,000 for parks programs including Movies in the Park that had been cut in an initial proposal.

Council votes on baseball field contract with Willamette University 

Councilors on Monday will take up an updated agreement with Willamette University advancing plans to use a stadium adjacent to Bush’s Pasture Park for a for-profit summer baseball league called Salem Baseball LLC. 

On June 13, members of Salem’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted in favor of an updated agreement with the university.

The new agreement would clarify who is responsible for using and maintaining the facilities, said Scott Archer, deputy city manager for community services, in a staff report. The agreement would also outline terms related to public access and future improvements. The new agreement is part of the university’s initiative along with Salem Baseball LLC to improve John Lewis Field, which would encroach slightly into Bush’s Pasture Park. 

Some of the planned improvements include installing synthetic turf, new field lights, an adjusted entryway, and field netting. These upgrades will be paid for with support from a $3 million state grant in addition to money contributed by the university and Salem Baseball LLC.

Ahead of the parks board meeting on June 13, 114 Salemites, many from Ward 2, which includes the park, signed a letter to the board opposing the plans. Others submitted written testimony, and several spoke during the meeting.

Neighbors raised concerns about foot traffic, the cost of cleaning up litter and that parking in the evenings is already mostly used even without an event.

The board ultimately recommended a final agreement including a requirement Willamette offer shuttle service and other measures intended to address concerns about parking and impact.

If approved by the council, the agreement will go through the city’s land use development process which includes a site plan review and a review by the Historic Landmarks Commission, city Parks Planning Manager Rob Romanek told Salem Reporter on June 13. 

City to add $2 million to ambulance budget to pay for  assistance to  Falck 

The city will have to use roughly $2 million from its emergency services fund to pay for emergency services it provided to assist Falck, the private company the city contracts with for emergency medical services. Most of the money will be used to write off bad debts from insurance companies and patients who didn’t pay for medical care they received.

A Falck ambulance parked at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

According to a city report from Josh Eggleston, the city’s chief financial officer, city medics were expected to be in service through March 2023, but have had to continue responding to medical calls to pick up slack from private provider Falck as 911 calls continue to rise. 

In March, fire chief Mike Niblock proposed the city move ambulance services back to the fire department when Falck’s contract expires in July 2025, citing slow ambulance responses and increasing city expenses required to fill in for Falck. The city council unanimously approved the proposal on March 25. 

Other items

  • Councilors will vote on approving an internal $2.1 million loan from the city’s utility fund to the general fund, to be repaid over 10 years. The loan covers the cost of the office space in the new city Public Works Building occupied by parks department staff.
  • The council will vote to adopt the 2025 downtown parking budget and to increase the parking tax rate for downtown parking to $169 per space, a 2% increase from current rates. 
  • The council will vote to approve the renewal of an intergovernmental agreement with the city and the West Valley Housing Authority. 
  • There will also be a public hearing regarding a supplemental budget for unanticipated city expenses to help Falck with ambulance services and medical response, as well as write offs for insurance and bad debt which exceed original estimates. 

Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 503-335-7790.

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Joe Siess is a reporter for Salem Reporter. Joe joined Salem Reporter in 2024 and primarily covers city and county government but loves surprises. Joe previously reported for the Redmond Spokesman, the Bulletin in Bend, Klamath Falls Herald and News and the Malheur Enterprise. He was born in Independence, MO, where the Oregon Trail officially starts, and grew up in the Kansas City area.