Council OKs end of library fines

Benny Westcott

The Sweet Home City Council voted unanimously at its Feb. 22 meeting to adopt a resolution eliminating library fines. (Councilor Dylan Richards was not present.)

However, as has previously been the policy, charges for lost materials will still occur if an item isn’t returned within 30 days of its due date.

Library Services Director Megan Dazey argued that the threat of accumulating fines for late materials can keep low-income families away or from checking out items to take home.

“These fines can negatively affect the borrowing habits of members of our community that need the library the most,” she said, adding that many libraries have seen a dramatic increase in returns after fines were eliminated, resulting in positive publicity and increased use.

The decision comes after a three-month fine-free trial period, which, according to Dazey, resulted in a 79% decrease in long-overdue items, saving staff a “few hours” every week of calling patrons. In addition, staff spent three to four hours per month less on accounting duties during the trial period.

“Staff savings alone far exceed the $60 average fines we’re bringing in each month,” she said.

In other action:

— Sweet Home City Manager Pro Tem Christy Wurster, who assumed that role Feb. 23 after Ray Towry’s Feb. 18 resignation (see details in page 1 story), told the council that she plans to work in that capacity for the next six months.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the qualified staff you have onboard,” she said.

Wurster previously served as Sweet Home’s pro tem city manager from May to November 2016, when Towry took the position. She was also a former operations and member engagement director for the League of Oregon Cities, as well as the city manager of Silverton from 2017 to 2020. Wurster has worked in local-government roles in various Oregon cities since 1995, launching her career as an assistant public works director in Dallas.

“I really look forward to being back in Sweet Home again and helping you through this transition as we hire your new manager,” Wurster said.

According to the Sweet Home City Charter, “a manager pro tem shall have no authority to appoint or remove any city officer or employee except with the approval of five members of the Council.” The Council, however, voted unanimously to authorize the city manager pro tem to appoint up to four police officers and one public works collections crew leader as recommended by respective hiring managers.

— Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen updated the Council on a future homeless facility in the city.

The council had voted Feb. 8 to request that Linn County donate a portion of the former Weyerhaeuser/Willamette Industries mill site property directly to the Lebanon-based Family Assistance and Resource Center Group for the proposed facility, and that city staff and the organization work on an agreement for services. Since that vote, Larsen said, staff have been hashing out property-related details with the county and the services agreement with the FAC, which has obtained grant funding of more than $400,000 to create and operate the center.

This funding, he added, would cover all development costs minus Public Works staff time, which is expected to amount to $15,000. That would be covered by the roughly $42,000 that remains of the $52,000 budgeted by the city to address homelessness in the current fiscal year. In addition, Larsen said that the city would commit to providing nighttime security for the site, which is expected to cost $88,000 annually.

Earlier that day, he reported to the Linn County Board of Commissioners on plans for the site, where the county hopes to develop an RV dump station as well. Commissioner Will Tucker said surveying was complete, plats were approved and the deed was ready to be recorded. The next step, he said, involved transferring property ownership.

— Radiator Supply House owner Will Garrett asked the council to authorize a partnership between the city and the Sweet Home Icebox Cookoff scheduled this summer.

Specifically, he requested $15,000 from the city for the event, which was funded last year solely by local businesses.

J&C BBQ & Catering hosts the barbecue competition, set for July 2-3. The inaugural installment drew 41 teams from Washington, California, Idaho, Texas and Nebraska last spring.

Garrett said he wants to advertise the competition 60 to 90 miles outside of the area in an attempt to attract people from around the state. He added that “BBQ Ninja” Craig Verhage and MotorTrend’s “Iron Resurrection” host Jayson “Shag” Arrington have already committed to the cookoff, which he said boasts the largest payout on the West Coast, at $33,000.

Although Garrett couldn’t foretell the event’s future, he said it could become an Oregon Jamboree-level attraction, adding, “We want this event to build Sweet Home.”

Mayor Greg Mahler said the council would have to discuss the partnership, but “I think that Sweet Home would want to partner with you. There’s no question.”

— Councilors unanimously voted to approve a conditional use application to move forward with an expansion of the Sweet Home Wastewater Treatment Plant. The request for council action stated that this will result in better and more reliable wastewater services, plus increased capacity.

— The council unanimously made four appointments to the Budget and Park and Tree committees and the Library Board.

Robert Briana was appointed to the Budget Committee for a three-year term. Now retired, the 22-year resident and former City Council member has served on that committee for four years, writing in his application, “I bring my knowledge of economic realities to the community,” having graduated with an international business degree and a minor in accounting (from University of Colorado Boulder), according to his LinkedIn page.

“I enjoy going through the financials,” he said in his Feb. 10 interview with the Administration, Finance and Property Committee meeting. “I keep informed of what’s going on in the city. I like to know what’s going on in my city, and I like checks and balances. … I tend to know the ins and outs of money, where it should go, where it doesn’t go, which accounts it can go to and which accounts it can’t.”

Kelsey Hicks was appointed to the Library Board for a four-year term. She was the coordinator for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) for three years in Lebanon. Before moving to Sweet Home a little more than a year and a half ago, she said in her application that she “participated in many library and community events” with her children in Lebanon.

Hicks homeschools her children and noted that her family is part of the Linn County Christian Co-op.

“As a mother and parent who does school at home, I think I can help add a voice for young children and families who choose to homeschool,” she wrote.

Bob Dalton was appointed to the Park and Tree Committee for a four-year term.

He has lived in the area for 67 years and has served on the Park and Tree Committee for six years. He also heads the Sweet Home Presidents Club and works with both the Sweet Home Health and Beautification committees. Dalton is a former environmental health and safety manager, plant manager and quality control manager at Weyerhaeuser/Willamette Industries.

He cited his organizational and leadership skills, fundraising experience, and project management expertise as contributions he could make for the Committee.

Wally Shreves was also appointed to a four-year term on the Park and Tree Committee, which the 21-year area resident currently chairs.

In his application, he wrote of his desire to “continue to work with the city staff and maintenance group to improve the parks.”

— The Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution amending the bylaws of the Sweet Home Youth Advisory Council, which that body believed would further promote participation.

– Linn County Communications Officer Alex Paul contributed to this story.