Newport year-end report

Newport Mayor Dean Sawyer, right, is administered the oath office by City Recorder Peggy Hawker Jan. 4 during the first meeting of the newly seated city council, which is composed entirely of already sitting members. Sawyer won re-election in November to a second term. Hawker also swore in incumbent City Councilors Beatriz Botello, Dietmar Goebel and Cynthia Jacobi via video. (Photo by Kenneth Lipp)

NEWPORT — City Manager Spencer Nebel produced a 44-page document highlighting Newport’s biggest issues during 2020, dubbing it “a year of emergencies.”

Nebel regularly produces an annual written retrospective, reflecting on the 20 most significant events during the previous year. His most recent report, presented to Newport City Council during its final meeting Monday, Jan. 4 (three recently re-elected members, as well as the mayor, were sworn in shortly thereafter, constituting a new council) is predictively dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report begins with the March 13, 2020 declaration of emergency, which redefined how the city did business, integrating virtual services like never before. Since the emergency declaration, Nebel noted, the city has conducted 3,083 hours of business via the online videoconferencing platform Zoom.

The pandemic’s impact on businesses — and therefore tax revenue, especially transient room tax — “profoundly” affected the city’s budget passed last summer, which eliminated full-time equivalent positions on the city’s payroll. To counter the deleterious economic impact of the pandemic and related restrictions, the city tapped Urban Renewal Agency funds to award more than $900,000 in grants to small businesses.

COVID was not the only crisis with which officials contended. Nebel’s report also discusses last summer’s water emergency due to fouling of the membrane filters at Newport’s water treatment facility. The fouling caused critically low storage levels and prompted use restrictions on commercial users, such as seafood processors, for more than a week. The city council has since appropriated funds for an additional filter rack and other facility upgrades meant to prevent a repeat of the shortage this coming summer. A report identified the cause of the fouling as unusually high levels of soluble organics in untreated water, but the origin of that excess has not been determined.

Although Newport remained physically untouched by flames during early September’s wildfires, evacuees from Lincoln City and Otis fled to the city as the Echo Mountain Complex fire swept through the north county. Newport’s Recreation Center served as the Red Cross evacuation headquarters, temporarily housing about 250 people. The Newport Fire Department also provided round-the-clock aid to fight the blaze, Nebel noted. 

The city manager’s report also highlighted major projects, like the completion of the $9 million Agate Beach Wastewater Improvement project and significant street improvements undertaken in conjunction with the Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital construction project.

A summary of council actions by the numbers lists 22 regular and 13 special sessions held, 18 work sessions and 12 executive sessions. Also included in Nebel’s annual review are highlights of council actions — like the body’s first formal quasi-judicial hearings and contract review board decisions — as well as detailed reports from department heads on their respective operations. The full report is available on the city’s website at tinyurl.com/y4mvq7xa.

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