Central Oregon’s six largest cities — Bend, Redmond, Prineville, Madras, Sisters and La Pine — are all being hit differently by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the managers of each city agreed last week they needed to work together to foster recovery from the pandemic’s economic impact, and that creative solutions will be necessary.
“Necessity is the motherhood of invention, and that applies to our situation with COVID-19,” said Steve Forrester, Prineville city manager, during a recent virtual City Club of Central Oregon forum.
“We have to think outside the box, be willing to experiment in a thoughtful, measured way,” added Cory Misley, Sisters city manager.
At the City Club forum, moderated by Tammy Baney — executive director of Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council — the city managers described how COVID-19 had effected their communities, and what was being done to kickstart recovery.
The City of Madras decided to postpone adding a proposed food and beverage tax to the May primary election ballot, to give local restaurants some relief, said City Manager Gus Burril.
“It was too much, and they were in a difficult position,” he said.
Forrester said Prineville will be hit economically by the cancellation of the 2020 Crooked River Roundup rodeo, originally planned for June. The event normally brings 20,000 to 25,000 visitors to the city, he said.
The two smallest cities participating seemed to be in stronger financial shape than their neighbors.
La Pine has seen minimal negative economic impact from COVID-19, said City Manager Melissa Bethel. Construction and planning — particularly for new housing subdivisions — have stayed steady, and many of La Pine’s businesses were considered essential, so they remained open, she said.
One silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic that Bethel noticed in La Pine: The community rallied around its small businesses, particularly restaurants.
“(There were) lines out the door, people eating out that wouldn’t normally eat out,” she said. “It’s that small town pride that you want to see.”
Sisters doesn’t have to worry about funding a police or fire department, which takes some pressure off its general fund during this tough economic time, said Misley. The city has added capital projects to next year’s budget to energize the local economy, and Sisters’ economy has diversified beyond just tourism in recent years, which helps lessen the blow, he added.
Still, with the cancellation of planned summer events like the Sisters Rodeo and Sisters Folk Festival , as well as a decline in visitors for downtown Sisters’ tourist-friendly shops, COVID-19 has been tough for the town, Misley said.
“Coming out of winter, that’s always the slow time of year,” he said. “Having (the pandemic) come after that is really challenging.”
Eric King, Bend city manager, said his city has made a point of helping those who are homeless . The city has partnered with local medical and veteran’s groups to send mobile outreach to the Juniper Ridge homeless camp, and placed hand washing stations throughout the city.
“We need to put more of a focus on vulnerable populations,” King said. “We know from history that crisis have a disproportionate effect on those that are economically disadvantaged.”
Keith Witcosky, Redmond city manager, said he is proud of the region’s cities ability to set aside their differences and work with each other, as well as with county officials, law enforcement and more, during a tough time.
“When you look at what’s going on around the country, where there’s divisiveness and partisanship, it’s nice to see in Central Oregon, everyone’s giving time to each (city) to make sure we have the best solutions to do our work,” he said.