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Oak Harbor pledges $167K to market downtown

Lesley McConnell, Oak Harbor’s newly hired communication specialist for the SE Pioneer Way improvement project, addresses the city council. Oak Harbor City Administrator Paul Schmidt laughs in the background.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Lesley McConnell, Oak Harbor’s newly hired communication specialist for the SE Pioneer Way improvement project, addresses the city council. Oak Harbor City Administrator Paul Schmidt laughs in the background.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

To help battle the negative impacts of construction on SE Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor has pledged $167,500 in financial support to downtown business owners.

That includes $50,000 for signs and billboards, $22,000 for direct advertising, $36,500 for website, printing and stuffing/poster costs, and another $14,000 for miscellaneous expenses. Finally, it includes paying a part-time communication specialist to be paid $34,560 for eight months of work.

The mitigation plan went before the city council Tuesday and was adopted on a 6-1 vote. City council members Beth Munns, Jim Campbell, Danny Paggao, Jim Palmer, Bob Severns and Scott Dudley voted to approve the proposal while Rick Almberg was opposed.

Almberg was against the plan for several reasons. He said it should be phased and that the budget outline should be set. As it is, the city council was only being asked to approve a total amount. The proposal would empower city staff members to change the plan as needed and spend the money however they see fit.

But his largest objection was that the plan would help downtown businesses by spending taxpayer dollars.

“I’m not on board with private marketing with public funds,” Almberg said.

Several other city council members expressed similar concerns, but were satisfied when City Administrator Paul Schmidt explained that none of the money would be spent on any one particular business. That would be illegal, he said. Rather, the plan calls for general advertising and promotion of the entire downtown area.

He also addressed concerns about the budget’s flexibility. It was proposed that way so that city staff could react to unforeseen situations. It also makes it so the city isn’t locked into  spending the total amount.

“If it doesn’t look like we need to spend $10,000 on a website, we aren’t going to,” Schmidt said.

Even the employment contract for the temporary position can be terminated at any time. However, Schmidt said he didn’t see that happening as the person hired for the job, former newspaper publisher and communication specialist Lesley McConnell, appears to be extremely qualified.

As a part-time employee, McConnell will work about 25 hours a week out of the city’s office on SE Pioneer Way. Her efforts to develop communication and marketing strategies to mitigate construction impacts should coincide nicely with those of project manager Larry Cort, he said.

“The two will complement each other,” Schmidt said.

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