Judge: Other cities copying SH’s Community Court program judge says

Benny Westcott

Judge Larry Blake Jr. presented an update on Sweet Home’s Community Court program to City Council members at their May 11 Sweet Home City Council meeting.

Councilors in attendance were Angelita Sanchez, Susan Coleman, Mayor Greg Mahler, Diane Gerson, Dave Trask and Dylan Richards. Lisa Gourley was absent.

Blake has been a judge in the state of Oregon for 25 years and has worked in Sweet Home for 15 years. He works in other cities in the Willamette Valley as well – Harrisburg, Monroe, Philomath, and Corvallis.

He said one of the reasons he was hired in Corvallis was to establish a community court there.

“We have a community court here in Sweet Home, and it’s very popular and other cities want that,” he said.

He said community court, among other things, tries to offer a “diversion” to juveniles who come to court for the first time for traffic violations.

Blake said, “with traffic cases, particularly younger folks that come into court, especially if it’s their first time, I try to keep any conviction off their record.

“If you’ve ever had a kid getting insurance, you know what that’s like to have tickets and how much that costs in insurance,” he said.

He said he keeps the juvenile’s record clean for a period of time and teen offenders can go to a class.

Blake said he likes to send juveniles to an online class called “Trauma Nurses Talk Tough” put on by Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland and the state government.

“A bunch of nurses got together and said ‘when juveniles drive like juveniles drive, they get into accidents and they don’t realize how bad it is. So let’s have them go through the process of what happens when you come to the hospital after being in an accident,’” Blake said.

Blake said he also tries to encourage juveniles to complete GED programs, as well as procure their license and insurance.

For senior citizens who are ticketed, Blake said, he pushes an AARP class that can reduce their insurance rates. He also said that sometimes he has older folks retested with the DMV on their driving skills.

Blake said that when he grew up in Kalispell, Mont., he “can still remember my dad talking to my grandpa about it being time to hang up the driver’s license, because he kept hitting the garage door. That’s what happened. Dad sat Grandpa down and had that talk. And I don’t know that that’s happening a lot any more.

“So I think we as a community can help out with that and get them retested,” Blake said.

“But I like to have them keep their license, because that’s a dignity thing. If you take their license, that’s a tough thing to do, particularly with us guys.”

He said that in general, the community court in Sweet Home “is a program for people facing criminal charges or who owe money to the city by way of fines or fees. They come to community court and engage in the process. Then at the end, we can dismiss the criminal charges against them, or waive the fees against them.”

“Why this is such a good program is that we’re targeting certain individuals,” Blake said. “People with mental health issues. People with housing issues. And people with alcohol or drug issues, or a combination of all those things.”

Community court is the last Wednesday of each month, held at the Sweet Home Police Department’s community room.

Court staff make recommendations to the people who stand before the court.

“If they follow through and do what they’re supposed to do, which is getting housing, getting ID, getting transportation, getting alcohol and drug help or mental health help – if they can do all of those things we dismiss the charges against them,” Blake said.

Blake said two individuals have passed through the community court process and had their charges dropped since the community court started in Sweet Home on Sept. 23, 2020.

Bus driver complains about

drivers failing to heed laws

Larry Angland, a local resident who has been driving school buses in Sweet Home for about 10 years, complained about local drivers ignoring traffic laws.

“Every day I come down Main Street between O & M Point S Tire and Auto and McDonald’s. I let little kids off the bus. The other day I had 10 cars in a row run my lights,” Angland said. “I’m sitting there laying on an air horn. They just look at me and go right on by.

“I’ve only had one day out of four weeks that I haven’t had cars run by red lights,” he said. “And I’m not the only bus. There’s 14 other bus drivers out there, and they’re all complaining about the same thing.”

“These little children, they get off the bus and they’re excited to go home,” Angland said. “I tell them ‘watch me.’ Then they get out and zoom across the road. And I’ve had them come so close to getting picked off. I sit there and shake for five minutes.

“Those kids are like mine when they’re on my bus. They’re my responsibility. When they step on that bus they’re my kids. And when they step off, until I see them to the curb, they’re still my kids as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t want to see one of them smattered all over the front of a car.”

“I’ve had cars parked, stopped, recognizing my lights. But then other cars will weave around them to go right on through,” Angland said, with incredulity in his voice.

“I would like to see something given to the police department so they can work with us to get this taken care of,” said Angland. “Because if we don’t, sure as heck, somebody’s going to get picked off.”

In response, Police Chief Jeff Lynn said “Mr. Angland has brought up some valid points that we are concerned with and aware of. We’ll definitely focus on the Main Street area in after-school hours, and hopefully we can make some improvements on that.”

Mahler told Angland “I can assure you, we are addressing the problem.”

“This has been an ongoing discussion with council and with the Police Department,” Mahler said. “Not only about people ignoring buses, but in my opinion they’re driving through town way too fast. This is an ongoing problem. They’re going way too fast in our town.”

Stormwater Utility Fee Increase

The council voted to increase the stormwater utility fee from the current $1 per single-family residential household to $3 per household.

“This option allows the city to move forward with the development of a stormwater master plan,” stated the request for council action put together by city staff.

Public Works Director Greg Springman said “I would suggest we don’t do anything with storm water until we get the master plan done.”

The sole dissenting vote came from Richards, who said “I’m against any storm water rate increase, mainly due to the fact that it seems like inflation is already going up around us, and I don’t think we need to add on to that.”

But Mahler said, “I think it’s important we do that master plan. Most definitely.”

Trask agreed: “I think this is a good idea. It may not be enough, but we have to do something. It affects a lot of people. Down on Osage Street, it floods every time it rains for two days, it seems like.”

“I know a lot of people down there who have had their houses flooded, and it’s almost a yearly thing,” he added.

Sanchez said: “I’m just really adamant that we try to figure out a way to secure a loan. And if this is going to be a way to make that possible by raising a little bit of revenue so we can use it as leverage, I’m for it.”

She said flooding “affects my neighbors. It affects my community, and it has to be fixed.”

Coleman agreed on the problem: “I think that we do need to increase it, but I like the steady small increases to be able to adjust these things.”

Financial Status Update

Finance Director Brandon Neish updated the council of the state of the city’s finances in his third quarter fiscal year report. The third quarter of the 2021 fiscal year spanned from Jan. 1 to Mar. 31.

For the 2021 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, estimated property tax revenue across all funds is now $4,535,732, Neish wrote in the report. This is a 10.3% increase over the same period the prior year and an 8.9% increase from the 2021 adopted budget.

Through December 2020, service fee revenues had been trending lower than the prior year due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the end of the third quarter, the year-to-date service charge revenue has flipped from negative (lower than prior year) to positive. At the end of the third quarter, service charges are up 11.4%, driven largely by significant increases in planning fee revenue and system development charges (SDCs) received by the city.

For the third quarter, utility revenues are up 3.4% over the third quarter of the prior year. Previous reports indicated that long-term economic struggles may force consumers to reduce consumptions or consider paying for other needs over utility fees.

The latter has not occurred, as the city’s delinquent accounts are lower than ever before, Neish wrote in his report. But consumption has decreased slightly.

Planning Commission Appointment

The council unanimously approved the appointment of David Lowman to the Sweet Home Planning Commission. He is currently a part of the Budget Committee and the Charter Review Committee in Sweet Home.

In his application, Lowman wrote, “I would add value to the Planning Commission. I would work tirelessly on all projects for the best interest of the city. I have lots of free time to give back.”