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Welcome to 2019, Albany!

The new year has begun and I have now served twenty-two years on the Albany City Council, ten of those as mayor. In that time, I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth on countless issues and challenges. Many issues come back again and again: the impact of growth, jobs, housing costs, homelessness, street maintenance, water, sewer and stormwater systems and more. 

Albany’s economy is strong; we have more jobs available than local businesses and industries can fill. The same thing happened ten years ago, but the challenge seems more difficult to address today. We can be proud that Albany is ahead of many other communities in participating in local programs such as the Pipeline project to build a qualified workforce to fill the ever-growing manufacturing and service jobs. Albany residents are being trained for local jobs so they can prosper and raise families in their hometown.

The impact of population growth was an important concern ten years ago as it is again today.   Oregon’s population is growing faster than the national average and each level of government is working hard to strengthen the economy. 

However, this growth affects the availability and affordability of housing. It is a challenge to keep our community affordable.  The cost of growth needs to be shared.   The livability of some neighborhoods is becoming a concern that we are trying to address proactively. 

Our most challenging need is how to help Albany residents who use much of their income for rent. On one hand, it is better to be rent-burdened than homeless. Many homeless persons who have been helped to find a place to live know how important it is to use their income for housing before other daily needs. They may be among the numbers who are burdened by rent.  Sadly, this issue is not one our local government can easily solve.

Homelessness is a rising concern throughout Oregon. While jobs are more plentiful than 10 years ago, that doesn’t guarantee that every Oregonian has a home with a roof and four walls.  Our city government is very involved in supporting clean, safe and affordable housing for people below the median income level for our region.  I am proud of the social service agencies, churches, public health and safety workers, and individuals in Albany who work together every day to move people toward our goal of putting a roof over a person’s head and helping them to become self-sufficient.  

Population growth can also bring an increase in crime.  I am proud of our public safety services and proactive measures that propose new solutions to problems, such as using social media for continuing community outreach about crime prevention.  

The condition of Albany’s streets and those throughout the state reflects decades of declining revenues for maintenance and reconstruction. This has no easy or quick solution; funding is a challenge today and will be in the future, while the growing population puts yet more vehicles on the road. Two major highways go through Albany, and the interstate passes by, creating more road wear and tear. The growing needs of our street system will continue to be a topic of discussion this year. Albany voters rejected a local gas tax in 2018; that could have provided one source of additional funding to address the backlog of street maintenance. The City Council will need to make some tough decisions soon; they won’t please everyone, but I hope we can find new sources of funding that are fair and equitable to all residents and road users.

Our community accomplished some great projects the past two years:  I am very proud of our state-of-the-art police station; the new fire station designed to complement our historic downtown; the long-awaited downtown streetscape project; and our unique Historic Carousel. New public improvements come with challenges and, sometimes, disagreements, but once a project is completed and the public sees the benefit through their own eyes, any controversy seems to fade away. 

Our beautiful Historic Carousel brings so many smiles to the faces of people of all ages, and we will continue to see the joy of the many children who visit the Carousel for years to come. 

A citizen-driven group established the Adopt-a-Park program to assist with the maintenance of neighborhood parks to reduce crime and beautify the community. 

And don’t forget the restored Waverly Lake Duck, another citizen-driven project, a source of joy for the community, and a nice welcome to visitors.

In this new year, we have the opportunity for another exciting community project, again driven by citizens: restoring the historic Cumberland Church. The group proposes to restore the church, built in 1892, and create a community center.  The Cumberland is one of the few wooden churches left in Albany and could be a gathering place for all to enjoy. I am grateful to the many dedicated volunteers and donors who care about historic preservation, the quaint character of our community and who share this vision. 

Two years ago, I began my message with concern about hostile, anti-social and rude actions displayed during local, state and national elections. I hoped such behavior was in the past and not a pattern for the future. Sadly, these acts continue, but I have seen positive change in Albany, as some disconnect from disrespectful conversations on social media, and the Democrat-Herald discontinued posting reader comments online. We cannot change what people say outside of Albany, but we can do our best to set an example to others and show them the utmost respect as we communicate to our citizens.

All city councils are made up of people with diverse opinions, but we work through our differences by focusing on the betterment of our community.  Our mission and vision statements drive our decisions, which we make with the intent to make our community a livable and vibrant place for everyone to enjoy.  

As we begin this new year, you can be assured that your city council is solidly focused on Albany and its livability.  I am proud of everyone who works so hard to revitalize Albany and provide an enjoyable place for all of us to work and play.  

As I stated two years ago, this will be an exciting year with beauty for all of us to share. Let’s all continue to spread words of respect, acts of love and kindness for all mankind, as if every day in our lives is a smile on another Carousel ride.

Let there be peace to all.

Sharon Konopa
Mayor of Albany