The Sisters City Council is keeping core City services and essential infrastructure at the forefront in goals and a budget adopted in challenging times.

The Council adopted Fiscal Year 2020/21 goals on March 11, which guided the creation of the 2020/21 City budget. Due to the current effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local economy, no one can confidently predict what the economy will look like over the next fiscal year and beyond.

“The City is well positioned to weather and rebound from these challenges,” said City Manager Cory Misley. “We should remain optimistic about our community and take a proactive, yet measured, approach to the next fiscal year. One critical component is that our economy is more diverse and sustainable than ever. We are more well positioned than ever to weather economic headwinds. It is vital that we continue to invest and prioritize furthering that resiliency.”

Livability and Growth:

The City will be completing a Comprehensive Plan update that is an important step in balancing the demand for growth with adequate buildable land supplies. Three of the Comp Plan sections have to do with housing, economic development, and urbanization, all of which need to be assessed before considering expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). New land must be brought into the UGB before it can be annexed into the City and available for building.

To support the efforts of balancing land supply with maintaining the historical character of the community, the budget includes monies for the Comp Plan update, Transportation System Plan amendments, creating a Master Plan for the City-owned Lazy Z property, and updating the city housing plan.

Public Safety:

Beginning July 1, the City will enter into a new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services for the next five years. In support of public safety, and in response to feedback from the community, Sisters will have a DCSO lieutenant and three patrolmen assigned exclusively to patrol Sisters.

Economic Development:

The two major factors in the City’s economic development are traded-sector businesses and tourism. Funds in this year’s budget in support of marketing and promotion of tourist activities by the Chamber have been cut by nearly $100,000 due to anticipated reduced transient room tax (TRT) from visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reduced funding from the City for the Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) program will be made up by fundraising among the private sector. Some funds will be available for business support and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds are designated to develop the City’s first-ever strategic plan regarding tourism and the utilization of the TRT funds.

Essential Infrastructure:

The backbone of all activity within the City is the essential infrastructure systems — water, wastewater, streets and parks. Council has continued to prioritize the necessary investment in these systems to ensure stability against any unforeseen issues (redundancy) and capacity in the face of continued growth.

Several big projects for FY 20/21 are the construction of Well No. 4 for drinking water system capacity and additional capital investment in water, sewer, parks, and streets systems. Two potential budget impacts for which the City doesn’t yet know amounts include right-of-way acquisition for the Locust/US 20 roundabout and acquisition of the East Portal USFS property. The City is actively working with ODOT to refine those numbers and does plan to move forward on both in FY 20/21.

Good Governance:

Many of the objectives under this goal, such as “increase and enhance public outreach,” can be furthered with little to no impact on the budget. Much of the work by the City is based on transparency, accountability, participation and consensus-orientation, being effective and efficient, equitable, and adhering to policies and law, and is part of everyday actions and procedures at the City.

The City will be hosting an AmeriCorps member for 11 months through the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Program at the University of Oregon. The City will be conducting an audit of short-term rentals (STR) and TRT remittance. Monies will also help create and utilize the long-range financial model and assess cybersecurity and any needed protections.

Community Vision:

The outcome of the Sisters Country Vision is 20 key strategies across four focus areas to be carried out by local government, public agencies, nonprofits, and other partners over the next five-to-ten years. As a “living plan,” it will inform future decisions and help move Sisters in the direction of our shared vision.

Money will go to extend an IGA with Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council for facilitation of the Vision Implementation Team and member organization support. A large portion of the RARE intern position will be dedicated to the Vision, specifically coordination between partners and advancing key projects. Engineering and legal work will study potential future Sun Ranch Drive streetscapes and improvements; land-use planning time to update the zoning code; and explore the details and potential designation of a Makers District (identified in the visioning process).

According to Misley, “Our greatest asset continues to be our people. The public service of every volunteer, from the Council to the committees, contributes to our collective success. The City staff are passionate about their work and serving this community. Our team strives to be both effective and efficient in light of stewardship of pubic tax dollars.”

Misley went on to say, “We have a diverse array of revenue sources and have been diligent in accumulating thoughtful reserves for the respective services. As growth continues and the Sisters Country Vision encourages us to aim higher, we must continue to evaluate every tool in the toolbox.”