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Keep Cornelius on its comeback track

What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the news coming out of Cornelius came in two flavors: bad and worse.

The city manager had been forced out of office, following a long and embarrassing public feud with the mayor, and several other key staff members followed him out the door. The library limped on reduced hours and a borrowed administrator. Desperately needed development projects threatened to overwhelm a skeleton staff. Wal-Mart was knocking on the city door, raising the prospect of a contentious fight, not only with critics of the big-box behemoth, but with officials in Forest Grove, who raised concerns about traffic and other issues at the site, which abuts the city limits.

Today, that seems like a distant memory.

True, Cornelius won't be mistaken for the Garden of Eden (at least not yet), but its west entrance to the city, with the new Walgreens as its anchor, offers a far more appealing greeting than its neighbors to the east or west can boast. The Wal-Mart proposal is still being appealed, in part on the issue of traffic, but last weekend the Cornelius City Council treated the Forest Grove City Council to a 'let's get to know each other' cookout. And, while many challenges lie ahead, there's a growing sense that the city is ready to handle them.

Part of the upswing is pegged to a building boom that boosted tax revenues above expectations, allowing the restoration of library services and some of the depleted staffing.

The Cornelius City Council also played a part, getting rid of the controversial water fee (albeit a bit later than many had hoped) and replacing it with a tax/fee package that spreads the burden more equitably among homeowners, visitors and developers.

And, although he's been on the job just six months, the new city manager, David Waffle, also deserves some of the credit (he'd certainly shoulder the blame if things had gone further south).

As evidenced in the profile that appears in this week's paper, Waffle has won the confidence of the people he works for, which is a big first step, and is looking to help his staff and the elected councilors look beyond the next crisis and plan for the city's long-term needs.

With the civic train seemingly on track, we're perplexed why one of the engineers is threatening to derail the whole process.

As noted in this week's paper (see page 2A), Mayor Terry Rilling wants to turn Cornelius into an uber-democracy. He's promoting an initiative that would require public votes on proposals to raise local taxes or fees.

We understand the frustration of voters in Cornelius and elsewhere who have watched as their local elected representatives implemented unpopular revenue measures, at times despite advisory referendums urging them to back off their plans.

But, we think Cornelius shows that the system works more times than not. The city councilors heard the voters' complaints about the local water fee and came up with a trio of proposed fees and taxes to replace it. Then, after hearing public comments on that proposal, the councilors changed it a bit before adopting it.

Rilling said his measure is intended to let voters prioritize what city services should receive what level of funding. They may, he noted, choose to cut library funding to hire more police officers.

We can see the appeal that such a system would have to some residents. And, if Cornelius were still lurching from crisis to crisis, we might be willing to wish Rilling luck as he gathers the signatures needed to put his idea to a public vote.

But given the turnaround we've seen in the past year, we think the Cornelius City Council, and its new manager, deserve the chance to continue their efforts to move the city forward with their long-range planning, without having to come up with a budget constantly re-crafted by voters.