City expulsion ordinance gets council vote

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council held the first reading of its downtown expulsion ordinance last week.

During its regular meeting on Nov. 12 the council voted 5-1 to move the proposed “Enhanced Law Enforcement Area” to a first reading. The council will likely hold a second reading at its next regular meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 26.

After a third reading at its Dec. 10 meeting, the council may choose to approve the new ordinance, which would take effect 30 days later.

The intent of the ordinance is to attempt to address frustrations over illegal activity repeatedly occurring downtown, said City Manager Ray Towry, adding that the ordinance is not about homelessness or solving the issue of homelessness but rather public safety.

“The city has an obligation to maintain a safe environment for its residents and support local business,” he said. “That means enforcing laws against behavior that infringes on the rights of others. Downtown merchants and others have complained that a number of people are engaging in behavior that makes it unpleasant to spend time downtown, negatively affecting their business.

“It is appropriate to expect people who want to be in the downtown area to obey the law and conduct themselves appropriately. Those expectations should be held consistently across different demographics.”

Under the ordinance, those cited or arrested for any of 25 different offenses, ranging from consumption of alcohol in public places to murder, three times in a year may be excluded for up to 30 days from the downtown area, from 4th Avenue to 22nd Avenue along Main Street and portions of Nandina and Long streets. Additional offenses allow them to be excluded for 90 days.

During the expulsion period, those subject to expulsion may be charged with criminal trespass except when using a variance that must be granted by the police chief or municipal court judge for 12 different reasons, ranging from residing in the expulsion area and attending drug treatment to church services and employment.

An expulsion order may be appealed to Municipal Court. Expulsion does not require conviction on the offenses.

Sweet Home resident Vince Adams urged the council to deny the proposal.

“I’m hoping you guys are going to drop it,” he said, noting that it caters to the downtown area but not other areas in town. “With all your excuses (for variances) in your list, basically it does no good. They’re basically back in the downtown area.”

If subjects of expulsion are kept out of the downtown area, “they’re going to have to go somewhere,” Adams said. That means they’ll go into the neighborhoods.

“Maybe find some other avenues to take care of the problem, but do it on a citywide scale,” Adams said.

The council voted 5-1, with Cortney Nash voting no, to move the ordinance on to its first reading.

Present at the meeting were Nash, Susan Coleman, Mayor Greg Mahler, Diane Gerson, James Goble and Dave Trask. Lisa Gourley was absent.

In other business:

– The council discussed an ordinance that would prohibit the use of bus shelters for anything other than waiting for an approved bus service. The ordinance would prohibit remaining in or within 20 feet of bus shelter seating for more than one hour within a 24-hour period. It would prohibit lying down on or across the seating or floor in a bus shelter, placing objects or substances on the seating that blocks proper use of the seating or obstructing the use of the seats or floor in a bus shelter.

Violating the ordinance would result in exclusion from bus shelters for 30 days on a first offense and 90 days for subsequent offenses.

Towry said that Linn Shuttle has had “some issues with some habits that are taking place in bus shelters,” and a shuttle representative has asked the city to do something about it.

Lynn said the ordinance is modeled on the one used by Albany except the exclusion language was modified to match other Sweet Home ordinances.

Goble said “this is something we actually do need,” and Mahler agreed. Towry will return later with a proposal ready for council action.

– Police Chief Jeff Lynn said the city is busy developing “community court,” which will begin functioning in January.

The idea is part of a larger plan to improve livability in Sweet Home, Lynn said. It gives Municipal Court Judge Larry Blake some problem-solving abilities with low-level crimes.

Lynn has been talking to various service providers, such as CHANCE and Linn County Mental Health, to connect offenders to services they may need. Court staff recently visited a community court in Eugene.

CHANCE, which assists recovering drug addicts, “will be a fantastic resource,” Lynn said.

Under the community court model, defendants appear quickly at court to meet with the judge, who can send them to representatives of the service agencies in the room for services that can address the underlying issues defendants may have, such as addiction or mental illness.

– The council approved the sale of the city’s former Public Works facility located at the north end of 9th Avenue for $220,000 to Anthony Lee Larson and Michelle Lee Tack Larson.

Towry estimated the city will net about $208,000, and it will keep a small piece of land that will allow the city to build an ADA-accessible trail to the South Santiam river.

The sale included a restriction on siting manufactured homes on the property. In the documentation, the owners said they intend to construct housing at the location.

The 1.29-acre property includes two shop buildings and an office building. It also was the site of the old Water Treatment Plant, replaced in 2010.

The city listed the property for $350,000 in June 2017. City councilors and officials had hoped to use proceeds from the sale to help pay for the remodel of the new City Hall, which opened in August. The city used money from its Building Reserve Fund and an $800,000 loan from the Water Fund to pay for the remodel.

If the City Council takes no action on the revenue, it will become part of the General Fund’s ending fund balance and carryover into the 2020-21 fiscal year as part of the General Fund’s beginning fund balance.

“I would recommend it goes to pay down the debt (to the Water Fund),” Towry said, but there have been a lot of different ideas about what to do with it.

– The council discussed a proposal to join the eight-city Mid-Valley Partnership Intergovernmental Agreement. The Lebanon City Council voted to sign the agreement the following night, Nov. 13, during its regular meeting.

The eight cities, including Sweet Home, created the Rural Linn County Economic Development Proposal in 2015, which among other things, called for a regional approach to economic development that focuses on rural communities, said Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen. The group then applied for a joint Rural Opportunities Initiative Grant through Business Oregon to bring a “venture catalyst” from the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network into the region.

Those cities are proposing to continue the regional cooperation through the creation of the Mid-Valley Partnership, a framework through which they can work together to accomplish their common economic goals and respond to economic opportunities, Larsen said. “This is kind of an effort to work with other communities with similar situations.”

Larger cities have dedicated departments for economic development, Larsen said.

Lebanon has one staff member, and Larsen spends part of his time on economic development, Towry said. All of the others rely on their city managers.

It’s nice to see the group working together, Trask said, but “we’ve got to see results eventually. I’m looking forward to seeing something happening.”

– Appointed Lisa Willson to the city’s Budget Committee and Charter Review Board.

The Budget Committee reviews and approves the city budget annually. Its approved budget is considered by the City Council for adoption.

The Charter Review Board has two vacancies. The board’s role is to review the city’s charter and make recommendations for changes to the City Council. Changes to the charter must be approved by a majority of Sweet Home voters.

For more information about the committee or to apply, call the City Manager’s office at (541) 367-8969.

– Updated personnel policies allowing non-represented city employees to take their two personal holidays at any time during the year or to be paid if not taken within the calendar year.

Towry said that union-represented employees can cash in personal days, and this rule makes it consistent for non-represented employees.

– In preparation for the upcoming audit of the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the council voted to adjust the budget based on over-expenditures in some areas of the budget.

The Executive Department exceeded its $322,000 budget by nearly $6,000 to cover additional payouts for overtime and compensatory and vacation banks, said Finance Director Brandon Neish. The city budgets 2 percent of all payroll expenses in each department as a contingency. The council’s action transfers funds from those contingencies to cover the overage.

Non-departmental spending in materials and supplies was overspent for the year thanks to additional banking expenses during the fiscal year, Neish said. As more people use credit and debit cards to pay fees and utility bills, the expenses related to processing those charges increases. The city incurred an additional $13,000 in bank fees with the addition of a credit card process at the Municipal Court. Funds to cover the cost were transferred from a 3-percent contingency in the Finance Department’s budget.

General Fund contingencies still had $112,000 remaining.

In the Wastewater Fund, the city incurred $44,000 in overage charges from Jacobs Engineering, which operates the Wastewater Treatment Plant, for repairs needed at the plant. The city reduced expenses for the remainder of the year to cover $39,000. The transfer approved by council moved funding from a debt expenditure line item that had a surplus to cover the remaining $5,000.

During the 2018-19 fiscal year, staff determined that administrative charges paid to the Department of Environmental Quality for wastewater debt servicing was more appropriately paid from the materials and services account rather than the debt service account, and the council approved a $44,000 transfer for this purpose.

– Also in preparation for the upcoming audit of the 2018-19 budget, the council voted 5-1, with Goble voting no, to adjust budgets related to the Jim Riggs Community Center, which houses the Boys and Girls Club and the Senior Center but is owned by the City of Sweet Home.

Additional funds were needed to cover a deficit in the Jim Riggs Community Center Fund. Neish said the fund pays for expenses related to the operation of the Community Center maintenance and utilities. The city covers the expenses initially and receives monthly reimbursements from the Senior Center and the Boys and Girls Club.

During the last fiscal year, Neish said, two issues occurred to create a deficit balance in the fund. After turnover in the Finance Department in 2018, finance staff members were unaware the city was supposed to include general building expenses in the reimbursement requests to the Senior Center and Boys and Girls Club. That resulted in a $5,700 balance that was not covered by the organizations. The issue has since been fixed.

The second issue, adding another $5,300 to the deficit, was a lack of contributions from the Boys and Girls Club, Neish said. Staff requested using contributions from the city’s General Fund to be repaid when the Boys and Girls Club catches up on its payments, which is typically after the fall auction.

– Adams told the City Council that he was “very displeased, disgusted” with the ordinance it recently passed allowing the use of side-by-side ATVs on the streets, and when it went into effect, all he had all day was ATVs going back and forth in front of his house and saw one near accident.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said, calling for the ordinance’s repeal.