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Waffle cooking on budget after six months

CHECKING IN -- Cornelius city manager focuses on the town's economic base
by: , David Waffle

As he enters his sixth month as the city manager of Cornelius, David Waffle already has a significant accomplishment under his belt: pulling together the city's budget in record time. Perhaps more importantly, he's managed to do it without ruffling many feathers.

'The department heads I talked to said it went much smoother than before,' noted Cornelius Mayor Terry Rilling.

While many people find reading the fine-print of balance sheets tedious, Waffle considers budgeting an exciting part of his job.

'Many people hate budget time, but I don't. I enjoy it quite a bit,' said Waffle, who previously served as Wilsonville's community development director. 'Money is the stuff that makes organizations run.'

Hammering out the budget was far from easy, however. Waffle said that when he came on as city manager, he knew of the city's past budget problems but didn't anticipate the amount of rough paperwork he'd have to wade through.

'We had to go back and do some very basic accounting and budget work,' he said. 'I had to do a lot more basic work than I expected.'

Aside from assembling the budget, managing staff, and dealing with the day-to-day activities of the city, Waffle believes his role as Cornelius's de facto CEO requires him to take a broader view of the city's development.

'Cities last a long, long time. We have to realize things we do today will affect the future,' Waffle said. 'Someone's going to look back and say, 'Wow, they did a really good job.' At other points, they'll ask, 'What the heck were they thinking?''

What Waffle is thinking is that the city needs to expand its business base to that the city government is not so financially dependent on homeowners, who in recent years have complained about fees imposed by the city council (see related story, page 2).

While the proposed Wal-Mart at the west end of town has received considerable attention, Waffle said the city needs to plan other ways to create job opportunities that will help ease Cornelius' high poverty rate.

The first step in creating new opportunities for business and redevelopment will be putting together an economic development strategy, which the city has never had before, Waffle said.

Here are Waffle's thoughts on some of the factors that will be part of that planning process:

Transportation is a key issue for business growth in Cornelius, which is why Waffle seeks to strengthen connections between the city, which straddles the increasingly busy Highway 8 and Highway 26, the preferred truck route.

Examples of this include this year's bridge replacement on Susbauer Road, and another planned replacement on Cornelius-Schefflin Road in 2007.

'We need to be concerned about goods, materials and people coming in and out of town,' said Waffle. 'That can be tough when there's just one major highway coming through town.'

Business mix

Attracting and retaining large companies from industries that have prospered in Washington County, such as electronics, food processing and lumber, will be part of the strategy, but helping small business will also be critical.

Through communication, surveys, and being helpful with the permit process, Waffle said, 'we need to make sure small businesses feel welcome and succeed.'

Economic growth in Cornelius is up against several challenges, however. For one, the city has 'built out' nearly all the land within its Urban Growth Boundary, he said. In 2007, the Metro regional government will look at possibly expanding the Cornelius UGB, but Waffle thinks the advance of urban areas needs to be weighed against the value of the farming economy.

'Ag industry is pretty important,' he said. 'We don't want to take up all the good, tillable land.'

Redevelopment of existing property within the city would seem to be the best way to strike this balance, but this approach often faces a powerful impediment: small parcels with multiple owners. When developers have to buy up several small lots with an even greater number of owners, it can be a strong disincentive for timely building.

'If you want to redevelop a property, you like to have a nice chunk of property under your control,' said Waffle.

Tackling these problems will require years of work, but Waffle is confident that with his help, the search for solutions will solidify into a vision for Cornelius's future.

The city's elected leaders seem secure in his capacity as well.

'He'll take the time to listen to what people have to say, and then work with it,' said Mayor Rilling, who openly feuded with Waffle's predecessor, Dick Kline. 'He's there as a leader, not as a dictator.'

City Councilor Alfredo Solares-Vega appreciates Waffle's ability to focus on the future. 'He's looking at the city with long-range goals,' he said.