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Rainier officials wonder how $700,000 vanished from budget

Four years after the city of Rainier started setting aside money to make loan repayments that would cover its share of a costly urban renewal project, the money appears to be missing in the city's annual budget.

The city had set aside about $700,000 since 2007 to be used on loan repayments to manufacturing company U.S. Gypsum, stemming from a botched urban renewal deal that brought the company to Rainier. But that money does not appear in the city's most recent budget. That is raising some questions.

Rainier City Councilor Russ Moon is circulating a petition requesting that the city hire Portland-based forensic accountant Gregson Parker, who in 2009 performed an in-depth audit of the Port of St. Helens.

Parker would be hired to determine what - if anything - happened to the money.

'There are any number of possibilities [for the budget discrepancy],' Parker said, when reached by phone at his Portland office, 'and all of them would be speculative on my part.'

City officials worry that the question marks surrounding the set-aside money could be a setback to a lawsuit settlement with U.S. Gypsum regarding the loan repayments. Additionally, the Rainier Economic Development Council, now overseen by City Council, is countersuing U.S. Gypsum.

Both lawsuits, which have been combined, were filed in District Court in Portland

Those two lawsuits will enter new settlement talks in Portland on Oct. 13.

In an email to city officials, Parker said he would charge $5,000 for his initial services performing exploratory work.