Florence City Council Shuns Austerity and Kick-Starts Economic Development


Florence City Council has decided to shun austerity and kick-start the economic development of the city from the fiscal year 2015-16. The beautiful coastal city of Florence in the State of Oregon, was once the scene of robust development and growth thanks to the flourishing tourism industry. The retirement industry was also recording substantial growth and was one of the main sources of stability.

Many strategic plans and initiatives were implemented in the 1990s in Florence for its economic development, community enhancement and growth of businesses. In the year 2004, the City of Florence was awarded the ‘Best Place to Retire’ honor by popular media houses and travel magazines. Although it was a great gesture on the part of these magazines, it also hindered the investments coming into Florence by unreasonably alarming investors of sluggish growth.

FlorenceAs the U.S. economy and local economy of Florence was greatly impacted by economic recession in 2008, the growth of the city slowed down considerably. Many projects could not be followed through due to lack of funding and resources in the years following 2010. Kelli Weese, Economic Development Coordinator and City Recorder, Florence, explained that since the economy has now picked up, the Florence City Council is planning to restructure the image of the city away from being a ‘retirement destination’ towards that of a ‘tourist destination.’

Weese said that the Florence City Council has decided to shun austerity and kick-start the process of economic development emphasizing on the tourism industry while maintaining the retirement industry, which is a major source of income. Emphasis would be given on promoting the beaches, sand dunes, old town, Sea Lion Caves and the light-house as major tourist attractions. The Oregon Coast Military Museum is scheduled for its much awaited opening on July 4, 2015.

FlorenceA recent social media post against the city’s much celebrated annual Rhododendron Festival, also called Rhody Days, held May 15-17, received a lot of flak from the patrons and residents of Florence. The complaint was against the noise created by hundreds of motorcycles that rode through the city over the weekend. A majority of residents openly declared their support for such events as it is one of the few festivals which are an integral part of Florence and help local businesses generate revenue.

A budget of more than $33,877,033 has been approved by the Florence City Council for the fiscal year 2015-16. This is a significant jump in the funds allocated for the city compared to the shoestring budgets of recent years. The budget was approved by the city council in a meeting held on June 1. Andy Parks, the interim Finance Director and Erin Reynolds, the city manager, and former Finance Director worked together with the committee to finalize this budget.

Joe Henry, Mayor, Florence, expressed his happiness about the approval of increased budget by the city council and the plans to revamp economic development. He said that the austerity has been holding the city back for many years. Henry also said that there is a great deal of enthusiasm in the officials of all departments. He shed some light on the immediate steps that would be taken. Work on city maintenance and a park would be a top priority as it has been neglected for years.

FlorenceMayor Henry also informed about the appointment of 14 members for two new city committees by the Florence City Council. He informed that one will be the Economic Development Committee and the other, the Public Art Committee. He said that both the new committees will play an important role in the city’s economic growth and will complement each other’s work. The members in the Economic Development Committee will work with Ron Preisler, the Councilor representing the city. The members of the committee are:
David Wiegan, Director, Siuslaw Outreach Services
Joe Crenshaw, Community member and retd. business owner
Meg Spencer, Director, Siuslaw Library District
Mike Rose, Chief Operating Officer, Three Rivers Casino
Robbie Wright, Owner, Siuslaw Broadband
Steve Earnshaw, Real Estate broker
Sharon Hobart, former Mayor of the City of Veneta and retd. economic development coordinator for Lane Council of Governments (LCOG)

The Public Art Committee will work with Councilor Joshua Greene and the members will have a term of one to three years. The members of the committee are:
Harlen Springer, President, Florence Regional Arts Alliance (FRAA) and artist
Jane Smoley, Glass artist, and member of Backstreet Gallery
Jennifer French, Watercolor artist and member of Backstreet Gallery
Ron Hildebrand, Artist and member of FRAA
SK Lindsey, Artist and Owner of Kenneth B and KB Galleries
Susan Tive, Co-owner, City Lights Cinema
Jo Beaudreau, Co-owner, Beaux Arts Fine Art Materials and Gallery and multi-media artist

Greene applauded his staff’s work and underlined the fact that all the department would now have to work in sync for the city’s growth. Reynolds also appreciated the amount of effort put in by the entire team. She informed that apart from the increased budget, the city council has also increased the compensation for the city’s volunteers. Reynolds stressed on the importance of city volunteers and the role that they play in different aspects of the city’s functioning. The Florence City Council has decided to shun austerity and kick-start the process of economic development..

By Ankur Sinha

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Photo courtesy of Steven Parker