The leaders of Longview and Kelso touted a rebounding local economy, declining crime, completed park projects and new public works initiatives as part of their State of the Cities addresses to the Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
The city managers of both cities reported a drop in “Group A” major crimes, with Longview’s decreasing 30 percent between 2015 and 2017. Kelso’s rate has dropped from 128 offenses per thousand people in 2012 to 98 per thousand in 2017.
Both cities also received clean audits last year.
Kelso City Manager Steve Taylor praised neighborhood renewal projects that have restored a sense of “civic pride.” He highlighted recently completed public work projects such as realigning West Main Street, replacing a water main along Columbia Street, installing sidewalks at Wallace Elementary School, building the new Minor Road Reservoir and upgrading South Pacific Avenue, Yew Street and Walnut Street.
In addition, Taylor said, the city has completed a Parks Improvement Master Plan, built new restrooms and a pavilion at Tam O’Shanter Park, demolished a crumbling house to expand Lads and Lassies Park and installed air conditioning at the Senior Center.
The success of the nuisance abatement program, Taylor said, has resulted in an increasing number of calls. At the same time, property values in the city are slowly climbing and the city’s property tax levy is at its lowest since 2012, he said.
The waiting list for hangars at Kelso airport is up to 18, Taylor said, calling it an indication of a strong economy.
The operating budget had a surplus for the seventh year in a row and has grown steadily over that time, he said.
If Millennium Bulk Terminals successfully receives its permits for its Longview coal export terminal, Taylor said it could create interest in the Anchor Point Industrial Property and the nearby Segale property at the Longview Wye (Exit 36).
Longview City Manager Kurt Sacha told the audience that the recovering economy has resulted in a large number of residential and commercial projects throughout the city. In 2017, the city approved 160 permits for residential projects and 115 for commercial projects.
Some of these projects include a $1.2 million warehouse project along Baltimore Street, 92 single-family lots in West Longview and a $3 million remodel at Fred Meyer.
The remodeled second floor of the downtown police station will continue to improve efficiency and effectiveness, he said.
In 2018, the city has issued permits for projects totaling $32.3 million in improvements, Sacha said.
The city received an award for excellence in financial reporting for the 24th year in a row.
He also told the crowd that the formation of a transportation benefit district allowed the city to improve 15th Avenue from Maple Street to Hudson Street and create a second street crew. The district also will finance restoring Nichols Boulevard from Louisiana Street to 26th Avenue, which will likely begin next summer, he said.
The city also installed an electronic reader board in front of City Hall on 15th Avenue, which notifies the public about upcoming events and meetings, he said.
The city Parks and Recreation Department, Sacha said, successfully opened the dike trail along the north side of Mint Valley Golf Course, received $154,000 in grants last year and was named a Tree City USA for the 35th year in a row.
The Mint Valley Golf Course is open for business, he said, and the city is beginning the process of taking over complete management of the course.
The Longview Library’s attendance increased 57 percent between 2016 and 2017, Sacha said.
Upcoming projects include paving Beech Street from 14th Avenue to California Way, securing a lease for a law enforcement training gun range, creating a master plan for a future sports complex at Roy Morse Park, building a playground at Archie Anderson Park with equipment for all ages and abilities and launching a redesigned city website next year.