City departments reflect on 2022, make plans for 2023

Benny Westcott

City department heads reflected on an often-tough 2022 and discussed plans for 2023 during a Tuesday, Jan. 24, Sweet Home City Council meeting.

Nowhere was the former more evident than with law enforcement, although Police Chief Jason Ogden shared his appreciation for his officers’ diligence and assistance from locals.

“We had a challenging year,” he said. “But when you’re down half of your staff, working in partnership with the community was so big for us, because you recognize your need for the community. [It] stepped up big-time in helping us solve investigations with video surveillance. I can remember one time personally having to go hands-on with somebody that was violent, and a community member stepped in to help.

“Even though we were half-staffed for a lot of that year, we were still able to provide the highest level of service to our community that we possibly can. We had over 9,600 calls for service last year, and we responded to all of them. And I can say with complete confidence we provided high-quality service.”

The department added six new officers in 2022.

“That is huge, because there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into background investigations, and just getting somebody on,” Ogden said. “They have to pass the medical, written tests, and the psychological examination. It is a time-consuming, long process, because we want to hire the best candidates that we can possibly find. I’m super-proud of our agency for onboarding those people.”

The staff also revived its detective position, currently occupied by Geoff Hamlin. Ogden called that “huge for us. We were just so short that our detective went back to the road to handle calls for service. Bringing him back really offloaded a lot of follow up in some of those significant investigations that are very time consuming. We were able to take those off of patrol and put those onto the detective, and he’s doing a great job.”

He recalled the aftermath of one of the department’s most memorable 2022 events: an early-morning Dec. 9 armed robbery at Mr. Lucky’s Deli.

“We don’t get many armed robberies, and we had one last year,” he said. “It’s kind of shocking when we do get that. But it was great that we were able to solve that within 18 hours. And if I understand correctly, I heard that the person is already on his way to prison for five years. The whole process was pretty fast.”

The chief then related distinctions awarded to his staff, starting with Community Services Officer Sean Morgan, who was named the 2022 Police Employee of the Year.

City Manager Kelcey Young hailed Morgan “for his service on working with the community and everything that he’s been doing. Besides working with FAC [the Family Assistance Resource Center, which helps Sweet Home’s homeless population], he’s also been doing various traffic reports and working with other community members. It’s really great to see him honored in this way.”

Four SHPD officers received Life Saving Awards in 2022 (as outlined in “Officers commended with Life Saving Awards,” New Era, Nov. 16). Sergeant Ryan Cummings, Hamlin and Ogden were feted for their actions in assisting SHPD Communications Commander Penny Leland during her Oct. 12 cardiac-arrest event (“City Council hails police for act of heroism,” Nov. 2). Officer Sean Potter was honored for his Dec. 23, 2021, heroics for applying a tourniquet to Albany resident Curtis Rowe’s right leg after the latter suffered multiple leg fractures in a motorcycle/Jeep accident (“Officers commended with Life Saving Awards,” Nov. 16).

Young said the awards “really speak to the dedication of our officers. It’s really incredible.”

SHPD’s 2022 call volume rose 3.72% while property crimes went up 24.96%. Person crimes fell 0.51% over the previous year. Cleared property crimes increased 9.46%, while cleared person crimes went up 4.11%. SHPD’s property crimes clearance rate was 22% in 2022, while the department’s person crimes clearance rate was 75%.

Among the 2022 highlights from Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen’s department were the sale of the old Weyerhaeuser mill site from Linn County to Sweet Home Real Estate Restorations, an adopted streetscape plan and an updated “clearer, more transparent and easier to work with” development code.

Building activity included the construction of 36 single family homes in 2022, the highest number in five years, as well as work on two new major healthcare facilities and the completion of the Main Street Taco Bell. Larsen also said that stricter regulations on manufactured homes in the new development code have resulted in a decrease in permits in that category from 16 in 2021 to two in 2022.

Sweet Home Public Library Services Director Megan Dazey shared bright news across the board, starting with a 35% increase in checkouts.

“We believe part of that was some new collections we added, but also the fact that we’re fine-free,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of people saying they hadn’t been to the library for five or 10 years because they were afraid of the fines they had. They’re coming back now and renewing their cards, and they are definitely using the library a lot more.”

Additionally, 606 library cards were issued, a figure that doubled pre-COVID-19 numbers.

“We’re getting teens to come back,” Dazey said. “It’s amazing how many did not know that we existed. Now we’re there and giving them a safe space by having games and everything in the afternoon.”

Sweet Home’s library shared 2,949 items with other Linn County libraries last year while borrowing only 2,873 items. According to Dazey, the Sweet Home branch used to borrow at about twice the rate it shared back.

“The fact that other libraries are borrowing from us more than we are borrowing from them is really cool,” Mayor Susan Coleman said. “In this county, people come to our library to borrow books.”

“I do have people that even drive from Albany or Lebanon to come to our library to check out materials that we have here,” Dazey added.

These increases, however, have created problems.

“We need more space for so many things,” she said. “We’re getting daily requests for meeting space for people in the community. Today we had someone from DHS [the Department of Human Services] there to meet with clients. We need some space for that. We’re limited in the amount of kids we can comfortably have for story time and the number of teens that can come over after school and hang out. And some do read. We’d like to have separate areas for those that want to read and those that just need a safe space to be.”

She said the library is at maximum capacity for its children’s graphic-novel collection.

Dazey added that she’d love to open more hours, especially on Friday and Saturday, and potentially add back Monday hours at some point. But the library can’t manage that with its current staff level.

Sweet Home Public Works worked on the Mahler Water Reclamation Facility design in 2022 and is currently finalizing water and stormwater master plans for the city. The department is also working on a small-diameter water-main replacement project as well as other treatment plant projects, including backwash/variable frequency drive upgrades, raw water control valve replacement, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition automation and fluoride system replacement.

A water-meter modernization project is also nearly finished, and Public Works completed Pleasant Valley Bridge repairs and a Northside Park dog park, in addition to being instrumental in improvements at FAC’s managed outreach and community resource facility and the restoration of the old City Hall area that formerly housed a homeless camp.

In other action:

— The council unanimously approved a supplemental budget with an appropriation of $40.60 million, a decrease of $1.58 million from the previous 2022-23 fiscal year budget.

Young noted that the city created the supplemental budget to update, simplify and include any missed items in the previous budget, and that its “main purpose … is to clean up the previous budget and any other issues that were there.”

“We have the advantage of having gone through about half of the year, so we’ve been able to see what our expenses are going to be,” she continued, explaining the city’s request for the decrease and adding that the city has saved more than $200,000 in identified items that could be cut in the past few months.

The supplemental budget included such additions as a new police-officer position, money for the abatement of properties and recreational vehicles, plus capital improvements for the police station and city hall.

“Due to the crime that’s been in the area and also looking at traffic, we feel that it would be very impactful on our community to be able to go ahead and have a new police officer,” Young said. “This would allow for additional oversights. It’s been challenging to retain some of our police officers. This would also give us another position, so we wouldn’t be as short-staffed if somebody takes another position while we’re filling that vacancy.”

She said that the city could consider making the role a sergeant or traffic-control position, or a combination thereof, at the start of the next budget cycle. It may also look at adding another position. She estimated that the city would be paying for the position for only three months of this fiscal year, as “hiring is still going to be a little bit challenging.”

“This would put us in much better standing for next fiscal year,” she said. “We’d already be ready to move forward, and we’d hopefully have a fully staffed team.”

— The council voted 6-1 to authorize Young to execute a contract with KnightHawk Protection Services to provide security services at FAC’s managed outreach and community resource Facility.

The city’s compensation to KnightHawk would be no more than $29.88 per hour for services. That pricing is good for the first year of a month-to-month contract. Under the plan, a security officer would be at the FAC facility from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Councilor Dylan Richards told The New Era that he voted against the contract because it costs taxpayers too much money.

— The council voted unanimously to conduct a first and second reading of an ordinance that would establish that the city could, without notice, immediately dispose of any property without apparent value or utility or located in unsanitary conditions.

City Attorney Robert Snyder wrote in a request for council action that the city needed “effective and efficient ways of disposing of personal property for health reasons, safety reasons and the general welfare of the area users and the general public,” from experience at the old city hall sleeping area. The ordinance comes as the city makes an overnight sleeping area available near the Sweet Home Police Department to contain overflow from the FAC homeless facility east of Bi-Mart.

— The council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance regulating the parking of travel trailers and recreational vehicles within the city.

The ordinance decrees that recreational vehicles cannot be parked or placed on any public street or alley, although RVs may be parked up to two hours anywhere on Main Street or on Long between Holley Road and 18th Avenue to allow for the patronage of local businesses.

Uninhabited RVs may be parked, stored or left on a public street for up to five cumulative days in a 30-day period, but only if they’re parked in front of the owner’s property, allowing a resident to pack, unpack or otherwise maintain vehicles at home. RVs owned by public agencies are exempt from the prohibition.

The ordinance comes as the city has seen a sharp increase in parked travel trailers and RVs within public rights-of-way. The city previously had no ordinance prohibiting the parking of travel trailers and RVs in available on-street spaces – they needed only comply with rules, which typically allow parking for up to two days. However, if an RV or trailer was moved a minor distance every two days, it could be parked in a right-of-way indefinitely.

The use of RVs typically generates wastewater and garbage, much like a residential home. Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen wrote in a request for council action (RCA) that they’re typically quite large and dangerously block drivers’ line of sight.

He noted that it was often difficult for drivers to see children or even adults between parked passenger cars, so it was nearly impossible with RVs and travel trailers. He added that because of their size, they typically occupy three or even four regular parking spaces.

n The council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance regulating vehicle camping within the city, after a recent influx resulted in increased complaints and safety concerns, leading city staff to research options to improve the situation. The ordinance went into effect immediately after passage because of an attached “expediency clause.” Normally, city ordinances go into effect after 30 days.

The ordinance prohibits vehicle camping within the city when a motor vehicle is parked within a publicly owned parking area or within any public right-of-way. Such camping is permitted at the Sweet Home Police Department between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. if vehicles are operational, are parked within a marked space, are not recreational vehicles and if any associated personal property is stored within them.

The ordinance also outlines that the designation of the Sweet Home Police Department as an acceptable location could be changed. The city previously had no ordinance prohibiting vehicle camping, which was permitted on public property or within public rights-of-way if it complied with parking regulations.

The city is constrained by recent 9th Circuit Court decisions (Martin v. Boise and Blake v. Grants Pass) that protect the right of homeless individuals to occupy public places. At the same time, vehicle camping inherently impacts public health and safety, according to Larsen’s RCA. The city cannot prohibit anyone from vehicle camping; however, it can pass time, place and manner restrictions on the practice.

— The council voted unanimously on approval and first reading of a proposed ordinance making various updates to the Sweet Home Municipal Code.

Under the ordinance, a section of the code is updated to allow for the enforcement of open-storage restrictions that are in public view from an alleyway, private street or shared driveway. Currently, the city can only impose open-storage restrictions on violations viewable from a public street. The update would also allow for open-storage enforcement in commercial and industrial areas, whereas it is currently limited to residences.

Additionally, the code’s open-burning section was clarified to make it clear that authorized individuals have the right to extinguish illegal open burning and that violators would bear the costs of such enforcement.

According to the current code, a structure’s glass window or door cannot be left broken for more than 48 hours if the broken glass is within six feet of its bottom. The update would include all windows and doors, not just those made of glass, and not just those at a structure’s bottom six feet.

A section would be updated to allow the city to require the input of a licensed arborist for the abatement of dead, dangerous, or diseased trees on private property.

“This is helpful, because city staff do not have the expertise to determine the danger posed by trees, and residents often use the current code to demand action regarding their neighbors’ trees,” Larsen wrote in a request for council action.

A section was updated to allow the city manager’s designee to enforce code provisions regarding domestic animals in parks. The current code allows only the city manager to enforce such provisions.

Lastly, references to debris or junk property, currently seen in the code’s Nuisances Affecting Public Health section, are moved to a different section as they were deemed more pertinent to Open Storage.

n The council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance designating more city areas as “parking zones,” or spaces where the city manager is authorized to dictate the duration of parking and order Public Works to mark parking spaces.

Previously, these zones were in place on Main Street from Highway 228 to 18th Ave., Long Street from Ames Creek Bridge to 18th Ave. and portions of 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 15th avenues.

After the city “received a few complaints about parking in the downtown area,” Larsen explained, the new ordinance amended the city code and added several new parking zones downtown.

The changes include making the rest of Main and Long streets parking zones, as well as 43rd Ave. between Long Street and Airport Road, Airport between 43rd and 49th avenues, 49th Ave. between Airport Road and Main St., 15th Ave. between Long and Main streets, and the north side of Kalmia St., between its western end (at the Sweet Home Fire District Main Station) and 15th Ave.

— Mayor Pro Tem Greg Mahler took issue with the theft of shopping carts, attributing much of the mess at former homeless camps to inhabitants with carts.

“I would like to see some kind of enforcement with the shopping carts in Sweet Home,” he said.

“Because that is how they’re getting this mess to where the problem is that we’re faced with. And these shopping carts are of very high value, believe it or not. And to me, if they’re pushing the shopping cart down the street, that’s theft.

“They’re not bringing [their stuff] one piece at a time by hand to these locations. They’re doing it by shopping carts. We’ve had a tremendous amount of shopping carts around our town that we’ve had to deal with.”

Ogden confirmed that his department has collected more than 60 shopping carts over the last few months. Mahler said that the average shopping cart costs between $750 and $1,000.

Ogden outlined how SHPD officers haven’t previously been able to press charges for such thefts.

“We have to have a victim in order to pursue a crime, and in the past Safeway has not been willing to pursue crimes,” he said. “But Safeway management is very interested in working with us. Their only roadblock is going up the corporate ladder to try to convince corporate to be a victim.”

Councilor Angelita Sanchez suggested providing stores with incentives to purchase anti-theft carts that didn’t move beyond their property. Mahler said that such carts run about $2,500 apiece.

— Coleman shared her thoughts on FAC’s new homeless facility after visiting it that day.

“I’m very grateful that staff are finding a path through the difficult legislation that we’ve faced, and also the fact that it provides a compassionately responsible approach to managing our community’s health and the residents that are here,” she said.

— Young awarded a challenge coin to Financial Services Manager Cindi Robeck.

“In the military, challenge coins are given for exemplary service and for going above and beyond,” Young said. “[Robeck] has gone above and beyond in pretty much all areas of her duties and taking on additional duties. She has stepped in and helped in every single level of finance.

“She has taken on multiple new tasks and literally has taken on a task almost every day. She has come in almost every weekend the entire time that I have been here. She has been working during holidays. She went on vacation and took her laptop with her so that we could reach out to her at any time, and she was still answering questions.”

“She has provided oversight and history in various areas, and is a key member of our team,” Young added, “and has been providing all of the service with enthusiasm and positivity.”

— Coleman announced the appointment of the following council members to various committees: Josh Thorstad, Mahler and Dave Trask to the Administration, Property and Finance Committee; Lisa Gourley to the Ad Hoc Committee on Health and the Art and Culture Committee; Sanchez to the Youth Advisory Council and Area Commission on Transportation. Thorstad to the Chamber of Commerce Committee and the Council of Governments; Trask to the Park and Tree Committee; and Richards to the Library Board and Traffic Safety committees.

Coleman appointed herself to the Solid Waste Advisory Council.

— The council voted unanimously to approve a contract with OpenGov for procurement management software at an annual cost of $8,986 per year with a one-time $15,725 implementation fee, which covers training and support. Under the contract, OpenGov will deliver cloud-based procurement solutions.

Young had previously implemented procurement management software, including OpenGov, at four different organizations. Due to her familiarity with the software, the firm agreed to discount the city’s initial contract and training costs.

— Mountain View Road resident Vince Adams discussed enforcement on cars parked facing the wrong way.

He worried that such scenarios could cause head-on collisions when a parked car’s driver activates its lights and an approaching vehicle did not expect its presence. He also noted that a car parked facing the wrong way must pass through two lanes of traffic to drive legally.

Adams also shared that residents were blocking sidewalks with vehicles, as well as with garbage cans and vegetation, and asked for enforcement in such instances.

n Young talked about the Jan. 20 Oregon Police Academy graduation ceremony in Salem, where Sweet Home police officers Garritt Bolkcom, Allen Cripe and Daniel Gerkman were among those honored.

“The overall ceremony was really moving, to see all of these officers and their families,” she said. “There would be like eight family members all taking pictures if somebody was graduating. It was just really moving to see that for the entire area.”

Ogden thanked Young for attending.

“I’ve been here for 25 years, and I can’t remember a time that a city manager has come to a police academy graduation,” he said. “So it’s pretty significant. It’s a huge morale-booster to the troops, and it just shows support.”