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Commentary: Oakridge City Council: Budget saving ideas by councilors shot full of holes

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Oakridge City Hall

By GARY CARL/For The Herald  —  The Oakridge City Council met on Thursday, January 20, 2022, at 7 p.m. via Zoom. 

Among other things, they addressed our city’s participation in LRAPA (Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority). One Councilor thought LRAPA was solely an Oakridge organization. After some discussion, they got things sorted out as to who would represent Oakridge on the LRAPA budget committee. 

 The Council next discussed and voted on a committee to review the RFP (Request for Proposal) for a City Engineer. 

 Lynda Kamerrer presented her proposal for the development of Banner Park. She reviewed the park site and gave her recommendation which is based upon her study of permaculture through her studies at Oregon State University.

She added that some acknowledgement of the Native People, who first inhabited this area, might be worked into the park. She was exploring that possibility through appropriate channels. The council voted unanimously to endorse her proposal and continued effort. 

There followed a heated discussion of the city’s budget and overruns alleged by Councilor Kinyon.  She asserted that the City Administrator, Bryan Cutchen, was overspending in certain areas, and she wanted spending to be cut back immediately. A noble thought, to be sure. I mean, who doesn’t want to save money in these troubled times?  

Unnecessary spending in the wrong areas

However, just a few weeks ago, this same council voted unanimously to waive fees for use of the Greenwaters Park community building for the Eugene Performing Arts Center, a private, for-profit entity, so that a few citizens’ children could partake of ballet lessons.  

That’s right, every single taxpayer in Oakridge will be subsidizing these ballet lessons so that Mayor Hollett’s daughter can have ballet lessons in a publicly owned building.  No matter if you don’t have children, no matter if you’re retired & living on a fixed income, no matter if your child cannot get into the class because there is no room, everyone is going to pay. And the entire Council approved and thought that was just fine (then Mayor Holston was the single vote against).   

But getting back to alleged overspending by the city administrator, some cost saving ideas were floated by councilors Kinyon and Spliethof. They suggested that the city should enact a hiring freeze (don’t hire any more police or fire employees); freeze wages (no pay increases) *; it was also suggested that hours at city hall be reduced to 3 days per week.

One more supplemental budget?

And finally, councilor Kinyon attempted to direct the CA to prepare yet another supplemental budget. Cutchen said that he had previously prepared supplemental budgets three times and the council has failed to act on any of them. He suggested that a member of the council participate in the drafting of yet another supplemental budget. Councilor Kinyon thought the CA’s response was rude and she said so. While maintaining a professional demeanor, the CA replied that he was not being rude but simply stating facts.

He also said that he was not overspending the budget… but that seemed to fall on deaf ears. The council seemed oblivious to the fact that in just a few weeks the CA is leaving their employment or that our finance director will also be gone. A rudderless ship indeed. 

Reducing police and Fire Department

Police Chief Martin weighed in and explained that if the council passes a hiring freeze the results would be dire. He indicated that two current officers have indicated to him they would be leaving the Oakridge PD. Getting new recruits into the Police Academy was quite difficult and passing a hiring freeze will cause Oakridge to be without adequate police protection.  

Mr. Cutchen said the Fire Department and Emergency Services (ambulance) are also short staffed and while we have not experienced a critical emergency yet… that one is inevitable, given the current inadequate staffing.  

 *Most city employees are represented by a union and their salary and benefits are the result of union negotiations. If the city violates their contracted benefits, it would be considered a violation and the city would undoubtedly be subjected to legal action.

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