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Town hall meeting on public safety fee tries to stay on point

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Mayor, council and staff listen as City Administrator James Cleavenger discusses issues of concern during the town hall meeting. L-R: CA Cleavenger, Finance Director Shirley, Fire Chief Hollett, Councilor Kinyon, Mayor Hollett, Councilors Hooker, Coker, and Spliethof. Herald photo

By GEORGE CUSTER/Editor  —  A town hall meeting to discuss Oakridge’s contentious public safety fee (PSF) was held Saturday evening. The Oakridge High School gymnasium was the location for the event. The meeting went from 6-8pm.

The meeting fell a bit flat if the point was to come up with solutions. A sparce attendance didn’t help matters, either.

In attendance representing the city was City Administrator James Cleavenger, Finance Director Colleen Shirley, Mayor Christina Hollett, Fire Chief Scott Hollett, Councilors Dawn Kinyon, Audy Spliethof, Jan Hooker, and Michelle Coker. Absent from the event were Councilors Bobbie Whitney and Mellissa Bjarnson. No reason for their absence was given.

Audio problems hampered the event

Microphone problems plagued the event from the start with on-again-off-again audio. However, the crowd in attendance was relatively small so hearing the discussion unamplified wasn’t a problem. A cordless microphone was passed around the room so that all of the conversations would be recorded and made available later. This process was eventually discarded as questions and comments did not necessarily follow the microphone protocol.

A handout sheet compiled by the city of other cities with similar fees was projected on the screen. Next on the screen; Oakridge salary comparisons were shown vis-a-vis Oregon averages. These two charts were flashed several times, back and forth, as needed to support arguments for the fee and to justify existing wages.

Charts, graphs, and figures were used to emphasize costs

There were other charts and diagrams that displayed the proportion of the city’s revenue from the government-granted ARPA funds, and from the public safety fee to other city revenue.

Lastly, a page showing where funds have already been reduced by council, by department, was flashed on the screen. Below those figures, list of recommended closings and further cuts in city services were displayed. Among them: Closing the library; closing the parks; laying off firefighters/police and paramedics; cease ambulance service; increase city fees; sell city assets; apply for more grants; and keep costs low.

The audience created little to no discussion about the numbers and figures displayed. Mayor and Council apologetically made it a point that they, individually, did not want the fee.

Questions and comments came in all forms

Questions had been requested to be submitted, prior to the event, by email to the city. Cleavenger did not indicate that any had been submitted if they had. The focus came primarily from the audience. Of the folks who attended the meeting by Zoom, only one person requested to speak. Issues other than the public safety fee were promised by the represented officials to be looked into.

A discussion about selling city property became a sore point with an audience member. This rub led to a lengthy explanation before other topics could be moved on to. Additionally, several questions centered around the fairness of the billing process.

Several in attendance noted confusion as to the billing process and qualification for exemption. When Councilor Coker informed the audience not to listen to rumors and to call city hall for correct answers to their questions, a citizen in the room said that Facebook should be shut down. This drew a laugh from Mayor Hollett.

Getting back to the issue

Later into the meeting. Councilor Hooker reminded the audience that they were all here to discuss the PSF.

A person in the audience told the group of city officials that it was obvious that the city needs the PSF so why debate it? The mayor reminded the audience that Oakridge is half way through the three-year fee already.

With no concrete resolutions coming out of the meeting, the event seemed more like an apology by the governing body for the financial straights the city has found itself in.

Councilor Spliethof was the first to thank all who came out, both in public and online, to join the discussions.

 

 

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