Communities, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir

7/28 Oakridge City council work session focuses on public safety fee

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By RICK ZYLSTRA/for The Herald  —  The meeting started with the Pledge of allegiance followed by roll call with Mayor Hollett and all but one council member participating via Zoom.

Discussion of the Public Safety Fee

Work sessions do not allow for voting on action items by the council, and generally, do not have public comments, with this meeting having none submitted.

The mayor announced the nature of the meeting as a work session only and the one item on the agenda was the Public Safety Fee (PSF).

Mayor Hollett stated an actual conflict of interest, and one councilmember stated a potential conflict of interest regarding the PSF.

More Zoom problems

The floor was opened to the councilors. One of the councilors wished to share her perspective on the subject fee but wanted the Finance Director to provide her input first. After multiple attempted Zoom logins, the Finance Director shared that the revenue from the fee was much less than originally anticipated for, and that this budget is more realistic. Unfortunately, most of the message from the Finance Director was plagued by Zoom glitching and much of it was inaudible.

With the floor still open to councilors, one council stated that after she had again reviewed the budget, she felt that with the use of existing contingencies and remaining ARPA funds, there is no need for the PSF. She discussed the ability to do a supplemental budget to remove the PSF.

The councilor screenshared a document that up until that point had not been vetted or viewed by staff. She summarized creating a Supplemental Budget to remove the PSF. The city could rely on contingencies, remaining ARPA and approximately ten adjustments to budget lines. There would be no need for PSF revenue for the Police or Emergency Services and would even include leftover ARPA money for the 2024 budget.

She also discussed how the voters turned down the levee at the ballot box. Also, she said that two citizens had threatened to sue the city if the unpaid fee resulted in a lien against their property.

Last-minute documents not part of the council packet

Another councilmember clarified that the screenshared document was not shared with the Finance Director prior to the meeting and was a last minute addition. There were comments made regarding how other cities our size do not offer the same services Oakridge does and that there is a huge shortfall on the horizon. All departments have already made all the cuts they can, the councilor said. There may be a need to bring back the PSF in the future, and to rescind and then bring back the PSF is not the way to do business.

She requested the Finance Director provide input on the document shared and to provide her professional input for a future meeting.

The Finance Director explained that looking forward, there is $130,000 of FEMA COVID funds that may have to be paid back. This is due to not being able to show where the advanced money was used for the COVID Clinic. Not to mention, also, the outdated systems used by city staff that will need to be replaced in the future for all the cuts being made in previous years.

There was discussion by councilmembers, again, on how there is a need to send the safety levee back to the voters. They need to be educated on the needs of the city and then hope for the best.

Inadequate public information on the PSF

It was stated that the biggest problem was that they had not done a good enough job at putting the information out to the public. A town hall meeting was suggested for the purpose of allowing the citizens to ask questions and get answers as to where the money is going. It was discussed that there was not enough information provided to the public regarding the failed safety levee nor the PSF in the past, leaving the public wondering what the money or need was for.

The discussion moved to how, with all the budget cuts across all departments being discussed, what the PSF intended use is. One councilor felt the discussion of these cuts during a meeting intended for the PSF seemed misleading.

It was requested that the Finance Director show what the budget would look like without the PSF. Also, what it really is providing and how much the COVID funding impacted the city’s ability to pay its bills over the last two years.

How to get along without the public safety fee

Multiple councilors stated the council speaks for the people and the people have said they don’t want the PSF, and the city needs to find a way to get along without it.

Future work sessions were requested, giving time for the administration to compile what their budgets would look like with the PSF. In addition, what cuts would be made without it and what cuts have been made in previous years? Council would like to see a status report on what staff have had to struggle with from previous cuts and potential cuts.

This meeting had many Zoom glitches with numerous inaudible moments and for this reason most of the council agreed the next meeting should be in person at city hall. Next work session is scheduled for August 11th, 2022, at 6pm. The purpose is to get a status report from staff on what things look like right now, and what cuts have been made.

Rick Zylstra grew up in Oakridge. He attended the University of Oregon where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Geography, and a master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning. He most recently worked for the City of Oakridge in both the Planning and Public Works Dept. Sunny Zylstra photo

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