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Council work session 8/30: The public safety fee question

Oakridge City Hall Herald photo

By GARY CARL/for The Herald  —  All Councilors were present, Counselor Coker and Bjarnson appearing by Zoom. The other counselors appeared in person.  City Administrator, James Cleavenger, presented a compilation of information regarding Public Safety Fees he had gathered from other municipalities in Oregon.  His data compared how other cities handled the Public Safety Fee in their jurisdiction.  All had a Public Safety Fee but how it was calculated and how it was enforced was not available.

How and when to enforce

In most cases, the Public Safety Fee (PSF) was attached to the water bill or some other city service.  Cleavenger reported that penalties for nonpayment were all over the board.  Some cities levied penalties (usually waiting until the delinquent account grew) in some other cases the delinquent account was sent to collections.  While a lien against the owner’s real property was possible it was cumbersome and difficult to implement.

Councilor Whitney said that whatever method is implemented by the city to collect a PSF it should be enforceable.  She felt strongly that it wasn’t fair for some to pay the PSF while others enjoyed the benefits of our police and fire protection while shirking their responsibility to pay.

Comparing apples and oranges

Cleavenger pointed out that 50 cities use a PSF to help pay for protective services.  It was mentioned that not all cities are like Oakridge. Both, because not all cities use the PSF to fund Fire and Ambulance as well as police, and without considering the comparable city’s budgets, it was impossible to utilize their information in a meaningful way.   Furthermore, there was no accounting for those unable to pay and therefor exempt from paying the fee.  In Oakridge, for example, about 289 people were granted an exemption based upon financial hardship.  These exemptions shift the financial burden to others in the community.

Counselor Hooker said she thought the council needed to communicate better with their constituents.   She said that people she had talked with didn’t want to pay the PSF because they didn’t know where the money was going.  There is a basic lack of trust in city government she said.

Councilor Coker said that turning off people’s water was just not right.  Councilor Spliethof agreed that shutting off the household water was not something he was willing to do.

Council to consider a town hall meeting

Cleavenger said without a PSF next year there will be staff cuts.  He seemed certain about this outcome.  Councilor Whitney thought the council should hold a town hall meeting to explain what the choices are with and without the PSF and to listen to what the citizens want.  Mayor Hollett, who had earlier declared an actual conflict of interest did not take part in the discussion. She did comment, however, that it was important to get community feedback.  She also requested some counselors to volunteer to help Mr. Cleavenger do the necessary research to prepare for the town hall.

There was general agreement amongst the council that a town hall meeting was a good idea and a tentative date was proposed for October 8th subject to room availability.

 

The meeting was adjourned at 8:30pm

Gary Carl is a retired judge of the Lane County Justice Court. He currently lives with his partner, Lynda Kamerrer & their cat, Lucy. Gary can be reached at [email protected] Gary Carl photo
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