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Oakridge City Council Meeting November 16, 2023: No-show councilors, fee waivers and short-term rental fees discussed

Oakridge City Hall

By JOY KINGSBURY/for The Herald  —  Mayor Cutchen is traveling and was not able to attend this meeting.  Dawn Kinyon, Council President, conducted the meeting in his place.

John Crowder, an Oakridge resident for eight years, told Council he was “warmed” to hear the pledge of allegiance recited at our City Council meetings.

Council went into Executive Session to conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions.

Council came back into session and approved the motion that they sell the Verizon Tower Lease to Tower Point.

The Sasquatch Duro Bike Race was approved by Council to serve alcohol at their race event on July 26-27, 2024.

Warming center appreciates city support

A letter from former Mayor Kathy Holston, was received thanking city for the use of Greenwater’s Park Community building for its use as a Warming Center on very cold nights.  She invites community members interested in volunteering to a meeting there on November 30th at 1:00 PM and again at 6:30PM.  There are many opportunities to help those less fortunate, she says in her letter.

Norine (Tink) Marquard sent a letter to City Council stating that there are families with small children who are homeless in Oakridge this winter. Sadly, the only place that can take them in is the Eugene Mission which has a waiting list for two or more months.  She asks the council to assist her in finding a viable option for the children.

She lists some possible options:

  • A warming center for women and children only.
  • Pallet houses loaned to the city.
  • Self-contained trailers possibly loaned by Hope On Wheels.

There was free Thanksgiving Dinner at the Methodist Church from 11:00 AM -1:00 PM. On Thanksgiving Day. All were welcome.

The fire department’s light parade will take place on December 2nd. This is the ninth parade and will also be a fundraiser for the Food Box.

The Sugar Plum Festival will take place at the Elementary School on December 2nd and 3rd.

Discussion continues on whether councilors should be present at meetings

The Mayor and Councilor Poncho Tarman are committed that Councilors should appear personally at meetings with the exception of travel and illness. Mayor Cutchen has stated in other meetings that he “feels passionate,” about Councilors appearing personally at meetings. Council is resolving to spell out a Code of Conduct on how to behave themselves during meetings, this item was discounted. The majority of councilors do not feel this is important, apparently, since Tarman attempted to amend the motion to enter into the Code of Conduct that Councilors would appear at meetings personally, but it was struck down with no second to the motion.

Councilor Melissa Bjarnson appeared as a photo on the screen at this meeting, as is usual. Councilor Coker attended the meeting and agreed with Tarman. The first reading of the resolution was approved.  Kinyon noted a Code of Conduct from 2015 was given to each Councilor on taking their seat. City Administrator, James Cleavenger pointed out the differences between the two Codes of Conduct. The first refers to “I Will” and the new draft states “We Will”.

The Finance Report will be tabled to next meeting because of a soft-ware computer glitch.

Mikal McPherson, of the Oakridge Police Department, gave the monthly P.D. report in a hand-out. 18 case reports, 23 incidents, 6 arrests, and one mental health problem.  The Halloween event went very well she said, and kids got to visit the jail.  They had fun, and Mikal gave out lots of candy.

City may be liable for accidents on local trails

Oregon’s Higher Courts have ended recreational immunity for improved trails.  This means that individuals using improved trails, may sustain an injury and sue the city and private and public landowners for accidents they may incur while using these improved trails. The City of Oakridge has tendered a letter to Governor Kotek to re-establish and protect recreational immunity.

Under this end to recreational immunity, Oakridge and all private landowners would have to close trails and prevent people from using them. This proposal comes from insurance companies as a solution to minimize civil liability. Local Governments have requested that the Oregon Supreme Court restore recreational immunity. However, the Court refused to hear the case. Other cities are sending letters also, requesting that recreational immunity be restored.

Fee waivers are again up for discussion

A draft of a new fee waiver policy for Oakridge was formulated by Councilors Brewer, Kinyon and Hollett, was presented and focused on events. There has been much discussion over the years over fee waivers for events and rentals. This draft focuses on nonprofits, mainly.  Councilor Brewer amended the motion to read that false or dishonest information would eliminate the ability of that applicant to be received by Council at that, or any other date. It was moved to approve the draft of the fee waiver policy including the amendment about falsifying information. For-profit events will be evaluated with the same criteria except in a bit more depth.

The City Council meeting scheduled for December 21st will be cancelled due to its proximity to Christmas. If there are any emergencies, Council will manage with a special meeting, or as necessary.

A fee waiver request for WeRSharp for a dinner for the Houseless at Greemwater’s Park Community Building was approved.

Fire Department Chief plans to attend more Westfir Council meetings

Oakridge Fire Chief, Scott Hollett, gave his report.  He announced that November is Fire Prevention Month. He discussed his concern about high mileage on Fire Department vehicles. The wearing out of parts, overall age, and the fact that these vehicles are very expensive to replace, are all concerns. He told council the Fire Department recently had reason to use a new extraction tool that cost $50,000. The department did a pediatric lifesaving course which went very well. Lots of kids at the trick or treat event.

Hollett mentioned the resignation of Westfir’s Volunteer Fire Chief, Jim (Gunny) McKee.  Chief Hollett attended a recent Westfir City Council meeting and will continue that practice.  He says he is very appreciative of that opportunity. Response times are now being included in reports. Time of receipt of call and time of arrival should not exceed ten minutes.  He said they reach that goal 90% of the time. The County sets response times by population density.

Waterline breaks in October were historic and costly

Rick Zylstra, Oakridge Planner, told Council that their were more waterline breaks in October this year than in all City history. He said that City is now ready to break ground on the infrastructure going in along Kokanee Drive in the industrial park.

Rick Silenskie, Oakridge citizen who lives on Elgin St, asked about records on infrastructure from the City. How old is the city infrastructure in various places? Zylstra told him that the City had a fire in the eighties that destroyed these records. Mr. Silenskie commented on the awful roads; many of which are in his neighborhood on the south side of the highway, particularly Jones and Elgin. Zylstra pointed out that they are both on the list of roads to be repaved by the city.

Short-term rentals may be expected to register with the City and pay a fee

In Oakridge there are 50 Air BnB’s within the city limits and 24 outside the city limits.  A total of 74 short-term rentals. A tax is under consideration by the City of Oakridge for these units. The tax would require all transient lodging providers to register with the Tax Administrator and provide the Tax Administrator all information they require and be issued a certificate from the authority to collect the tax. This will ensure that all short-term units pay the same tax.

The City could impose restrictions on the number of short-term rentals by specific zones. Seventy percent of the revenue would be used to promote tourism and 30% could go into the city general fund. A motion was made to draft an ordinance to impose tax on short-term rentals for future consideration. This would be an Oakridge City tax imposed on all short-term rentals including hotels and motels as well as private short-term rentals.

All businesses with $5,000 profit within a given year must purchase a city business license. The business license fee would include all short-term rental owners within city limits. In discussion, Hollett stated that she believes that hotels and motels should be exempt from this tax. Kinyon said, “It is unfair to tax one type and not the other.”  Motion passed to draft such an ordinance.

Steve Robbs, an Oakridge citizen who manages Airbnb’s, stated that he is in favor of the tax. Airbnb collects and pays all current taxes as a line item on the billings. People will come anyway, and he doesn’t feel people will discriminate in stays over taxes. Many cities govern short term rentals by zoning, with fewer restrictions in Commercial zones, he told Council.

City to hold holiday party December 16th

The City of Oakridge will hold its annual holiday party and awards ceremony on December 16th from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on December 16th at the Willamette Lanes Bowling Alley.  All city employees, elected officials, Committee Members, Volunteers and their families are invited to attend.

All City Council meetings are open to the public and take place at City Hall on the first and third Thursdays of each month at 6:00PM.  A sign up sheet for public comment is available at the door.  A hybrid meeting is available with instructions to attend in that manner on the city website.

Joy Kingsbury is an Oakridge resident and regular contributor to The Herald.
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