From diversifying its economy to investing in infrastructure, Bend has never been stronger and it will continue to improve as it grows, Mayor Casey Roats said Tuesday evening.

Roats, speaking with City Manager Eric King at an annual state of the city address hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce at 10 Barrel East, said the city has always grown and residents and city government should focus on growing in a thoughtful manner, instead of trying to stop growth.

“Growing up here in Bend, change is all I’ve really known,” Roats said. “Many of you who’ve moved to Bend more recently probably wouldn’t have moved here if it was still the town I grew up in.”

Bend is growing, but not at the same break-neck pace it was just prior to the recession, he said. In 2017, Bend issued 938 single-family home permits — compared to 2,500 in 2007. Portland State University’s Population Research Center estimated the city population in 2017 at 86,765 people.

Growth is likely to be a key issue in this year’s election campaigns for Bend’s City Council and its first elected mayor.

“I would object to the contention that Bend is growing at a runaway pace,” Roats said.

He said he’s most proud of the City Council for unanimously voting to dedicate $60 million to extending Murphy Road in southeast Bend and Empire Boulevard in northeast Bend. Finishing the two streets will clear the way to build homes for 5,500 residents and add 2,500 jobs by 2040, and is expected to reduce future emergency response times by two or more minutes.

As the city implements growth, it’s working toward a vision of complete neighborhoods, which have homes, workplaces, shops, restaurants, schools and parks in the same area, King said.

“A bad city plan is when you have all of your jobs in one area and all of your housing in another,” he said. “It puts a lot of stress on your infrastructure.”

The city still faces major challenges in paying for needed infrastructure, King said. Bend has about $91 million in deferred maintenance, and about $59 million of that can’t be addressed through street preservation anymore. Meeting demand for new streets during the next 20 years is expected to take at least another $213 million.

“Most of that money for infrastructure doesn’t come from state or federal government,” King said.

Improving housing affordability is an important issue to all city leaders, Roats said. Many employees of the city’s utility department — and of the water company his family owns — have to live more than 30 minutes from Bend because they can’t afford housing here, he said.

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