Communities, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir

Oakridge City Council revisits public safety fee as LRAPA issues air quality grant to residents

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Oakridge City Hall Herald Photo

April 7, 2022

ELLA BROWN/Correspondent/The Herald– The Oakridge City Council met Thursday evening, April 7th, where they revisited the $22 monthly public safety fee concerning the city’s financially stressed budget and the nearing end of the fiscal year.

Kevin Cronin, interim city administrator, and Colleen Shirly, finance director, held a work session to kick off the meeting in response to the public’s petition to remove the public safety fee.

“This is the hottest topic that I’ve dealt with during my pro tem,” said Cronin. “We’re really pinching pennies to get to the finish line.”

With a new fiscal year beginning on July 1st, the cash-strapped City of Oakridge fears that they’ve only collected $78,000 when they should have collected $157,000 from resident safety fees at this point.

A revenue report by the budget committee said there are an estimated 273 exemptions from the monthly public safety fee already.

The goal of the public safety fee that residents started paying in December is to cover, “essentially all of the city’s operating expenses, not just emergency services,” said Mayor Christina Hollett.

The budget committee has been forced to make hard financial decisions to make it through the last few months of the fiscal year by making staff cuts in City Hall and reducing city materials and services.

LRAPA air quality grant

Executive Director Travis Knudsen and Public Affairs Manager Steve Dietrich of Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) spoke at the meeting regarding the $4,938,190 federal grant awarded in 2019 for Oakridge Air.

LRAPA works with Oakridge Air to monitor air quality throughout Lane County. Knudsen said the pressing issues of Oakridge’s air quality include the negative impacts of residential wood stoves and the burning of wet wood.

“Wintertime wood smoke is an issue that impacts air quality in Oakridge,” said Knudsen. “What happens at night is our air cools down and temperatures drop. All that cold air sinks into Oakridge’s valley and traps all that wood smoke into that low-layer air that everybody is exposed to.”

LRAPA and Oakridge Air have worked together to combat their air quality concerns by using the grant money to replace old wood stoves in Oakridge and Westfir homes with certified wood stoves or an upgraded heating system for free.

Aside from offering heating upgrades, LRAPA also proposes to continue their work by distributing certified HEPA air filters to the residents of Oakridge, implementing community firewood programs, community and school education, and code enforcement.

An estimated $15,000 is available for each home that applies through the Qualification Questionnaire. There are currently only 46 homes in Oakridge enrolled in the program.

In the past, LRAPA has also given away over 450 air filters to Oakridge and Westfir residents, and although the program is no longer offering air purifiers themselves, certified HEPA filters are still available at City Hall.

Knudsen also said that as of Wednesday, Oakridge Air was awarded a second grant of $2,739,425 that will extend the project for another two years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ella Brown is a Junior at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications

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