Business & economy, Local government

Malheur County won’t double Smith’s pay, leaving unsettled who will manage rail project

VALE – Malheur County is cutting its ties with Greg Smith, its long-time economic development director, and is leaving to a separate public company whether to retain him to continue managing the Treasure Valley Reload Project.

The Malheur County Court has agreed to provide up to $9,000 a month for the cost of a project manager. The manager would be retained by Malheur County Development Corp., which is overseeing the Nyssa rail project.

Whether Smith would stay on in that role is unclear.

Grant Kitamura, president of the development company, said Thursday he hadn’t reviewed the county’s offer or decided whether Smith would be retained.

“We haven’t come to terms with Greg,” said Kitamura.

The county’s proposal, contained in a draft contract, would provide $6,000 to $9,000 a month for a project manager.

READ IT: Malheur County’s funding offer

The money would go to the development company and would come from the county’s share of lottery profits that are devoted to economic development and not its general fund.

That funding has used by the county since 2017 to pay Smith’s company $6,000 a month to manage the reload center. The new arrangement could see Smith getting a 50% increase in compensation for the same work he’s been doing in recent years.

He had also been getting $9,000 a month for economic development work.

The development company had asked the county court in a June 30 to keep providing that total of $15,000 a month – but only for work on the rail project.

“Fifteen thousand is out of line,” said Commissioner Don Hodge as the court considered its offer.

“We can find someone for substantially less,” said Commissioner Ron Jacobs.

Kitamura also said he wasn’t sure whether the $6,000 to $9,000 pay scale would satisfy Smith.

“We have to talk to Greg,” he said.

Kitamura said the board planned to meet Tuesday, July 26, to resolve the issue.

“We need to finish this project. That’s our goal,” said Kitamura.

The newest county proposal emerged after several weeks of behind-the-scene maneuvering by officials after Smith, the county’s economic development chief since 2013, abruptly resigned June 28.

He said his company was “no longer interested in continuing to provide services” to the county because of what he described as an “incredibly toxic” environment. 

Caught off guard, county officials said they expected to extend his contract for up to two months to allow for the change. 

But two days after he quit, Smith apparently reversed himself and was prepared to stay on for another year – working only on the rail project. 

The county recently extended Smith’s economic development contract for the month of July. After Aug. 1, though, Smith will no longer be the county’s economic development director.

Smith has presided over a project that has fallen behind schedule and is over budget.

The rail project was supposed to open in 2020 but a series of cost overruns pushed deadlines back. Construction began last December but it rapidly ran into trouble, faced with a wetland that proved far larger than expected which required tons of additional rock that cost millions not budgeted.

Smith and his team then projected the reload center would be open this fall, in time to ship onions from the 2022 harvest. Now, there is no scheduled opening.

The fate of the project hangs on action by the legislative Emergency Board in September, which is expected to consider adding another $3 million in state funding to $29 million already devoted to the project.

But even that sum would allow only a slimmed-down version of the reload center. Smith’s team has already cut a key rail spur, a truck scale and paved roads out of the original plan. More recently, the team said it would shrink the main terminal building by one-third.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]


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