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Oakridge City Council passes floodplain ordinance and reworks guide for allocating state lodging taxes

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Christina ‘Chrissy’ Hollett, shown in video image, directs her first meeting as Oakridge mayor via Zoom Thursday night. Dean Rea/The Herald

By DEAN REA/Editor/The Herald — In what might be termed as a routine meeting during which voices were not raised and no one argued over policy nor procedure, Chrissy Hollett led the Oakridge City Council through an hour-and-a-half meeting Thursday night as the new mayor.

It was a change from the divisiveness that often occurred among board members during the past several months and led Kathy Holston to resign as mayor during the previous meeting.

In her letter of resignation Holston said her decision was made “due to the lack of vision in this council, the lack of understanding of the impact your decisions have on the stability of this community and your inability to present solutions that not only undermine and disrespect the employees of the city and citizens themselves who disagree with you.”

While the council passed a floodplain ordinance and reworked a guide for allocating state lodging taxes in an orderly fashion, petitions were being circulated in the community opposing the public safety fee being collected monthly to fill the income gap to maintain city functions. Residents have questioned whether this move is intended to lead to legal action or to pressure the city council to reduce or to cancel the fee.

The Herald reported in September that after five-and-a-half months of contentious budget deliberations, the council agreed to impose a $22 monthly public safety fee to maintain current levels of police, fire and ambulance service.

The 4-to-2 vote on Sept. 16 reflected conflicting points of view that have kept the council divided — sometimes bitterly — since last March.

Designed to expire in three years, the fee was to plug a half-million-dollar shortfall in the city’s Emergency Services Fund and to prevent deep cuts in the services provided by Oakridge police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

The conflict and criticism of his performance as city administrator led Bryan Cutchen, a retired Navy admiral and a former airline pilot, to submit his resignation effective Feb. 28.

Cutchen attempted to find a way to balance resources for a city strapped for money largely because of its costly ambulance service. The public safety fee was a last-gasp attempt to balance the budget.

Even though the city administrator plans to retire, he and his wife Sissy have said they plan to remain in Oakridge where they purchased a house.

Four persons have applied thus far for what the city charter calls a pro-term (interim) city administrator to replace Cutchen starting March 1. Cutchen was hired on July 15, 2019. Under the charter the temporary official chosen by the council may serve six months before a permanent administrator is hired. The deadline for submitting an application is Feb. 11.

The city worked with the Lane Council of Governments in choosing Cutchen. During that period Marsha Miller, a retired Lane County director of Public Works, served as the administrator. Later, as an LGOG representative she served Lowell as acting city administrator and helped choose Jeremy Caudle for that office.

Oakridge officials have not announced whether they plan to use the same process in choosing Cutchen’s successor, or whether city councilors will work independently in making the choice.

A replacement for Eric Kytola, who has resigned as city treasurer, is expected to begin work in mid-February. Kytola has agreed to continue under contract to train his replacement.

Two people have applied for the council position vacated last month after Holston resigned as mayor. Hollett, who was the council president, then became the mayor. The deadline for submitting an application for the vacant council position is Feb. 14. Candidates will be interviewed by councilors on March 3. The person selected will serve until Dec. 31.

The council Thursday night appointed Terry DeLoach to a three-year term on the library board. DeLoach, an artist, said, “I have had a life-long interest in books, and a library is a place to find them.” He is an Oakridge native who graduated from the University of Oregon with an art and education degree.

Hollett read a biographical report honoring the memory of hometown war hero Maximo Yabes, an annual observance.

The council approved a revised Rural Tourism Marketing Program that distributes taxes collected by the state. Committee members tightened language on who may be eligible for grants of up to $25,000 over five years.

A revised flood plain ordinance was approved unanimously on the recommendation of the planning commission, action required by the state and one that enhances the public obtaining flood insurance.

All councilors were present: Michelle Coker, Bobbie Whitney, Audy Spliethof, Melissa Bjarnson and Dawn Kinyon.

 

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