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August 11, 2022, City Council Work Session on the Public Safety Fee

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Oakridge City Hall Herald Photo

By RICK ZYLSTRA/for The Herald  —  Before the start of the meeting Mayor Hollett read a letter of Condolences for the fallen Wild Land Fire Fighter, Collin Hagan of the Craig Interagency Hotshots.

Roll Call was held, and all members of the council were present at City Hall except Councilor Whitney who had an excused absence.

Discussion of the Public Safety Fee

Mayor Hollett claimed actual conflict of interest and Council Bjornson claimed potential conflict.

During the previous Public Safety Fee Work Session, the council requested from all departments a brief history of cutbacks each department has made in previous years. The reports are available at Oakridge City Hall.

Police 

The first report was from Police Chief Kevin Martin. He provided a summary of personnel changes for the last ten years. Chief Martin explained how since 2011/2012 the Oakridge police department staffing levels have changed. Staffing has gone from a total of twelve employees in various policing, code enforcement and support roles to a total of 5.5 employees. The necessary duties were spread across all personnel. Chief Martin also went on to explain how over the years various outside support has come and gone. Supported code enforcement brought the number of employees to 6.5.

Since 2018 $135,980 has been cut from personnel with no reduction in duties for remaining staff. Code enforcement and support staff for code enforcement has greatly reduced the ability to enforce codes.

The meeting was then opened to questions from Councilors.

  • Council Kinyon asked what kind of duties for community services officers? Chief Martin replied by explaining how that officer did code enforcement and how LRAPA had been assisting with woodsmoke enforcement during winter months. That officer also assisted in regular code enforcement outside of home wood heating and burn seasons.
  • Councilor Cooker asked about crime rates since the cuts of 2018. The Chief answered saying it is hard to say because in small communities the major crimes used for creating crime rates skew the data.

 

Public Works

City Administrator James Cleavenger read a report written by the Maintenance Supervisor, Robeart Chrisman. The report stated that the Public Works Department is down from nine employees to six. The Department doesn’t currently have a director, causing outsourcing of some work to Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) as needed.

The report went on to describe some upcoming large expenses in the near future. An example is the required purchase of the land that sites the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) that is currently being leased from the Forest Service. Also, water system pressure and pump controls, generators, upgrades to the stormwater system and constant repairs to the levee were mentioned. Mr. Chrisman’s report went on to state the Public Works Department has faced roughly $400,000 in cuts each year. Chrisman went on to say, “If we don’t have the funds to operate, we don’t have the ability to operate”

Mr. Cleavenger stated can attest to the future costs for the WWTP are quite high. He had participated in an assessment of the WWTP when he first started this job.

Councilor questions and Staff responses for Public Works

  • Councilor Spliethof asked about the costs of the lands for the WWTP and how much it would be. Mr. Cleavenger said he wished he had an answer, but those negotiations had stopped and started over the years with different administration staff.
  • Councilor Kinyon wanted to clarify the source of the funds for the WWTP. They come from Wastewater funds and not Water Funds. She went on to remind the council these costs don’t need to be discussed in budget sessions and that ultimately water and wastewater don’t have anything to do with the PSF.

 

Fire and EMS

Fire Chief Scott Hollett read his prepared report where he stated that the department has gone from five full time employees down to three. In his report, Chief Hollett went on to state, “This year we were able to add back the Fire Chief’s position due to the addition of the Public Safety Fee”

He went on to state how, in just a short time, the department has made significant progress to stabilize the volunteers and part-time staff. Since the addition of the Fire Chief position there have been significant cuts made to the budget totaling $50,380.

Chief Hollett explained the reduction in overtime is dependent on part-time staff. And he described how the costs budgeted for part-time staff are half of what is needed. Also, he explaining how the PSF is intended to stabilize the Emergency Services funds until a District could be formed, or other sources of revenue could be found.

In Chief Hollett’s report he also described the upcoming and future needs for the department. Needs such as training funds, personal protective equipment, and that the ambulances are high milage were addressed. One rescue unit that is unreliable was also mentioned.

Hollett is hopeful that ARPA funds can be allocated to replenish budget items that have been critically low for years. He ended his report by listing the grants and funding changes and opportunities the department will be pursuing.

Council questions for Fire and EMS

Councilor questions and Staff responses for Fire and EMS,

  • Councilor Kinyon said she was confused about the Fire Chief funding when funding due to the PSF went down by $7000. Chief Hollett responded that had the department not received PSF funds, more cuts would have been needed without the fee. We all have to take a bite out of the tax bases.
  • Councilor Cooker asked how many volunteers are currently with the department. Chief Hollett stated that there are about sixteen. However, getting them trained and active is a problem.

Chief Martin spoke about what it takes to be a police volunteer/reserve compared to being a fire volunteer. There are concerns associated with insurance not allowing police volunteers to be used alone.

Finance

Finance Director, Colleen Shirley, wrote about one furloughed employee. She said how those duties were shared amongst other staff and/or outsourced to outside agencies. Ms. Shirley also wrote about the severely outdated billing system, computers and their limitations. City Hall’s deteriorated condition of the building was mentioned. Shirley stated that current understaffing, combined with technological and physical conditions, leads to a workplace that is anything than ideal.

Shirley further described how she had incorporated Councilor Kinyon’s suggested changes to the budget from the previous PSF meeting. She said that without adding in the FEMA clinic funds that will need to be paid back, nor the increased EMS Coordinator wage for the new hire, this left the General fund negative $277,400. This amounted to all the suggested adjustments and without the PSF.

Councilor questions and Staff responses for Finance/Administrative Department

  • Councilor Spliethof asked, “Will the current computers handle the new software?” Ms. Shirley answered that no, we would need updated hardware.
  • Councilor Hooker asked if there are possibly programs to help with updates that the city needed? Ms. Shirley answered, no, not that we are aware of.
  • Councilor Kinyon asked, ” Do you plan to use ARPA funds for the program?” Mrs. Shirley answered, yes, this is infrastructure, and would fall under that.

Open discussion by Council

Councilor Hooker spoke about how unpopular the PSF is. Hooker said that something needs to be done, and she feels it should be equally divided by one-third for Fire, Police and EMS. She went on and suggested a town hall meeting to explain to citizens where the PSF is going. People are frustrated that they don’t know where the money is going. She doesn’t feel there was enough community involvement. Also, they should have a say, and that the levee failed because people were divided and angry. The Council and staff discussed coordinating and setting up a town hall meeting for public education and to bring awareness sometime in October, but the date would be finalized during a regular session meeting.

Mayor Hollett asked to discuss liens on homes for not paying the fee. The question arose during discussion amongst the council and staff as to whether the fee should be enforceable and how it could be made enforceable without a judgement or contract? It was recommended that the city would need an answer from the city’s attorney along with research into how other cities handle similar situations.

Meeting adjourned at 9:02

Next meeting on Tuesday August 30th at 6pm.

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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