While Eric Wier is new to the position of city manager, he’s certainly not new to the city.
Wier, the former Crescent City Public Works director, was hired as city manager earlier this week. He had been serving as interim city manager.
Wier has lived here his entire life and his children are fourth-generation residents of the area.
A graduate of all Crescent City schools, he went to Southern Oregon University where he earned a degree in applied physics, before getting an engineering degree at Oregon State University. He worked as a construction engineer in Portland for a couple years returned to Crescent City in 2003 to become the assistant city engineer.
“Then I just worked my way through the organization,” he said, noting that in 2006, he was promoted to the utilities director/ assistant engineer position, becoming the public works director in January 2013.
Saying he’s excited about the new opportunity, Wier noted he has worked under 10 different interim and full time city managers. The experience has helped him learn the strengths and weaknesses of each.
He said the city currently has a strong staff working together as a team toward common goals.
The issue of paying back the loan for the Wastewater Treatment Facility is vast and complicated but the problem can be boiled down to costs continue to go up as rates stay the same.
“We’ve been working through it for years,” Wier said, noting the many required steps the city has gone through to notify ratepayers and put a possible rate increase on the November 2016 ballot.
“The rates failed,” he said, “so that put us in a situation where we have the debt service from our existing wastewater treatment plant loan, we have operational costs and maintenance costs that continue to rise and our rates have stayed the same since 2014. So here we are, four years later with the same revenue.”
Wier’s staff is in communication with the several overseeing state agencies. The original $43 million loan had a 2.4 percent interest rate, but was modified to be repaid over 30 years with no interest. A requirement to set aside $220,000 every three years for capital improvements was also lifted, freeing up about $600,000 that had been set aside.
Debt service payments were also reduced to allow the city time to increase revenues but $100,000 is added to the payment per year, he explained.
“We have just tried to get down to a bare-bones capital improvement plan, which doesn’t allow for a lot of the projects that aren’t absolutely critical for staff operation and also future planning of where we want to go, and focused it on projects that either increase revenues or decrease operational costs,” Wier said, adding staff also looked at which projects could be grant-funded.
“In the end, you’re still in a hard place because prices keep rising,” he said. “It’s something we can’t get away from because if our revenues stay flat, we’re never going to catch up.”
Wier said keeping up with inflation though small increases year after year may be what will work. Another idea may be to work toward consumption-based rates, he said, which would change the rate structure.
“There is definitely no short answer,” he said. “It’s a long answer, but we’re trying to get the information out there and get the community informed about how we’re trying to decrease those rates and move ahead.
Wier explained the city has applied for grants to repair Front Street but the bigger problem lies below. He said a simple overlay will not repair the street, since it appears many redwood logs were buried below it nearly 100 years ago. As those logs deteriorated the road above sunk, as has been found with several sinkholes around Crescent City.
“We need to make sure with Front Street, that we’re not just putting a Band-Aid over the top,” he said. “We need to build that structural section so that it will last and, in the future, we can just do typical road maintenance.”
In the meantime, the city needs to be aggressive in finding grant funds through the Department of Transportation, bonds and so forth. Wier said when the city finds money to repair the storm drain system, the street can be repaired at the same time.
When that happens, Front street will be reconstructed from B Street (which was recently rebuilt) to H Street. Wier showed a printout of the Front Street Master Plan, last updated in 2011, which will realign the street, add pedestrian features and diagonal parking areas. He said the crux of the plan is to create a more attractive thoroughfare which is more friendly to pedestrians. He said the city has applied for many grants over the years to make the vision for Front Street a reality.
“I think once it does, it will be a masterpiece for the community and truly a nice experience, versus what it is now,” he said, “which is a five-lane road that’s full of potholes and we have a horrible time just trying to keep it in good condition.”
Funding is the only issue, as the project is otherwise shovel-ready, he said.
Wier said he has put a lot of energy in building in the business community and with it will come new businesses and opportunities.
“Part of it is the economic times,” he said. “They are changing, so you’re starting to see some of these businesses come in.”
Noting that Tractor Supply Co. is moving into the old Ray’s building and other small businesses and restaurants are popping up around town, Wier said the city needs to be a partner in the effort and do all it can to facilitate. While the city has to deal with the red tape of state and coastal regulations, it needs to have one purpose.
“How can we help you get to where you want to be, and explain those expectations and how we’ll get through it,” he said. “As a city staff, that’s definitely our goal and our vision to answer that question when somebody asks ‘Why should I come here?’ and the answers will be obvious to them.”
Asked if the city is engaged in outreach to businesses that could fill local empty buildings, Wier said the city and its Community Development Department, are actively trying to fill those empty buildings.
“That is a focus of ours,” he said. “Part of that is just being that agency when, as they come in and have an idea, we try to help them as much as we can, to fulfill that vision.”
“It’s not just Crescent City,” Wier said, when asked what the city can do to address the many issues around homelessness. “Every city, it seems, is dealing with it. It’s a problem we are going to have to address, not as one sole agency, but as a community, with the city, county and local businesses involved in trying to address it.”
Wier said through partnerships with the county and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, a focus will be on the wooded area behind the Jedediah Smith Shopping Center, an area known for it’s accumulated garbage from transient and homeless camping. He said the area generates many calls to police and fire departments and is becoming a “dangerous situation.”
Wier said cleanup of the area will begin next week, and refer those residing there where they can find services the Health and Human Services Department and Veterans Services.
“We’ll try to help them in whatever way we can,” he said.
As for a long-term solution, he said government and residents will have to continue to brainstorm as a community.
“It’s going to take everyone to solve that,” Wier said.
As for the issue of transient travelers and the associated issues between them and residents, primarily business customers, Wier said officials and law enforcement will continue to handle them case by case.
Wier noted every city has its challenges and opportunities.
“I see a lot of opportunities for this town and I think as the city, it’s our job to overcome challenges and take advantage of those opportunities and try to fulfill that potential,” he said.
He said by partnering with the community, businesses local Native American tribes and other government agencies, and taking advantage of the fact that this is a coastal town with an interesting history, Crescent City can become a place that visitors appreciate.
“If we can all get on that same bandwagon with that same, consistent vision, and work together as partners, then we can see it all come together,” he said.
Wier noted several local projects that will begin in the near future, from the Pebble Beach Drive project to an affordable housing structure in Crescent City.
He said the city is fortunate to have a Housing Authority, which helps with housing vouchers, bringing over $3 million a year into the local housing market.
“I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity and I think the future is very bright here in Crescent City,” Wier said. “As a city team, as a family, we have great people, and I see us really being able to move forward in the next couple years. I’m excited about the energy we have downtown and the things we have going on as a city.”