City Council approves three-month waiver on library fines

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 26, voted unanimously to eliminate 15-cent daily past-due fines on Sweet Home Public Library materials for three months, as approved by the library’s advisory board.

The new policy went into effect Nov. 1.

“The threat of accumulating fines for late library materials can keep low-income families away from libraries or from checking out materials to take home,” Library Services Director Megan Dazey wrote in a request for council action (RCA). “These fines can negatively affect the borrowing habits of members of the community that need the library the most. Removing barriers or perceived barriers to access of library materials can increase visits to the library and the circulation of materials.

“Many libraries have noted a dramatic increase in the number of items returned … after fines were eliminated,” she continued. “Libraries can also generate positive publicity and increased usage from all city residents by going fine-free.”

Dazey did state, however, that fines and fees must be paid prior to renewing library cards, which are good for a single year.

The Library Advisory Board believed the financial impact to the library’s budget would be minimal, but its impact on the community and on those who can least afford fines would be large, according to the RCA. The average fines paid per month was $60 in September and October.

“When my kids were small, we checked out books and sometimes didn’t return them in time,” council member Angelita Sanchez said. “I think it’s a good idea to reduce fines.”

Fellow councilor Dylan Richards agreed, saying, “I checked out a book a long time ago and had a huge fine,” a comment that drew laughter.

Councilor Diane Gerson indicated that she would be in favor of eliminating fines permanently. The RCA stated that the three-month change would act as a “trial period” that could be extended.

In other business:

— The council unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) regarding sidewalk construction on the north side of Hwy. 20 from 53rd to 60th Ave. The project also includes the installation of rapid rectangular flashing beacons and midblock crossings at 40th and 49th avenues.

The total project cost is estimated at roughly $3.2 million. Federal funds will be limited to $2.2 million. The state will be responsible for about $698,000 of the total project costs while the city will be responsible for about $300,000.

“I can visualize this and the benefit it will be to our community,” Councilor Lisa Gourley said.

— The council unanimously approved an IGA with ODOT regarding an American Disability Act curb-ramp project on Highways 20 and 228. It would also incorporate pedestrian crossing improvements at the intersection of Main Street (Hwy. 20) and 22nd Ave. in the form of an island or pedestrian refuge, in the middle of Main, plus a user-activated flashing beacon.

The project will be financed at an estimated cost of roughly $8 million in state and federal funds.

“ODOT is methodically working to update ADA ramps to meet current guidelines throughout the state. Sweet Home is next on the list, so to speak,” Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen stated in a request for council action.

Recently, councilor Sanchez worked with State Representative Jamie Cate and State Senator Fred Girod to obtain American Rescue Plan Act funding for the project. The pedestrian improvements were added to the original ADA ramp project. ARPA funding for the 22nd Ave. pedestrian safety project from the state will pass through the city to ODOT for design and construction. The IGA requires the city to maintain any improvements within city rights-of-way, and pay for power to the pedestrian crossing.

— The council voted unanimously to conduct a first reading of proposed amendments to the Sweet Home Municipal Code regarding the keeping of honeybees. Currently, the code stipulates, “There must be one quarter of an acre that is exclusively set aside for each hive of bees,” a restriction that was struck from the proposal. Also removed was the line, “The overall location at which the bees are residing has, at minimum, one half of an acre.”

According to the proposed ordinance, hives must be kept in a side or rear yard at least 10 feet from property lines, while the current code states that hives must maintain at least 50 feet of distance.

At a July 27 meeting, Sweet Home resident Ken Bronson requested that the council amend the code after a code enforcement officer informed him he was in violation of the city’s law because his hives were too close to a neighbor’s property line.

“Frankly, we didn’t even know there was such a code for bees here in Sweet Home,” Bronson said at the time, although he admitted to the violation after becoming aware of the code, noting that his property spans only one-third of an acre. “I believe the existing code is primarily based on fear, not on the actions of honeybees. We’re talking about honeybees, not hornets, not yellowjackets. I’m around them every day. I just walk around them, and it’s not a problem at all.”

Bronson’s wife Fran, a former beekeeper with the Mid-Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association, said, “The fact that there is a colony of bees behind the White House and behind the governor’s house helps educate people that they aren’t dangerous. The only time that they’re going to be dangerous is if you go over there and beat their hive with a stick or knock them over. But we work with them all the time.”

StoryBook Farm master beekeeper Don Herbison, who maintains hives for 15 clients, said in July that none of his clients had more than a half-acre. “According to your ordinance, they’re all illegal,” he said.

A second reading of the proposed ordinance will be held at the next city council meeting Tuesday, Nov. 9.

— The council swore in new Sweet Home Police Department officer, Ben Pinnegar, who began working on Monday, Oct. 18. The 27-year-old Kentucky native graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. He came to Oregon in May 2020.

“We are super-excited to have him on,” Captain Jason Ogden said during the ceremony.