Jeremy Green, legal counsel for the city of Burns, attended the city council meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, to review the proposed transportation fee being considered by the council.
Green explained that the city had a street evaluation performed earlier this year, and the report concluded that the city’s street system is failing. The report recommended the implementation of a transportation utility fee of $5 per occupied unit, per month, that would provide funding for the city to maintain 8.38 miles of roads and address road repairs for more than 30 percent of the city.
Green made it clear that the $5 charge is a transportation utility fee, and not a tax, and the funds will be dedicated to paying costs and expenses of operating the city’s street system.
The transportation fee will be billed and collected monthly from each person responsible for an occupied unit in a manner similar to the process used for collection of utility bills for city services.
The proposed ordinance includes the steps that the city may take if the fee is not paid. Accounts that have not been paid in full within 15 days of the due date will incur the then applicable late fees and penalties. A late notice will be sent out on or about the 30th day following the due date indicating the amount of any late fees and penalties, the date a “door hanger notice” will be posted, and the date water service will be terminated if the account is not paid in full. Accounts that have not been paid in full within 40 days of the due date will be assigned a place on the “door hanger” list created by the city and will be assessed additional fees established by the city. A termination notice will be placed upon the customer’s premises if an account has not been paid in full within 50 days of the due date, advising the customer that water service will be terminated within seven days from the posting of the termination notice, unless the entire balance due is paid in full.
Green noted that a waiver of the fee may be granted if a housing unit is identified as being vacant.
Any person may also appeal a ruling or interpretation of the ordinance by filing a notice of appeal with the city manager.
Green added that several cities in Oregon have already implemented a similar fee with success.
The city also plans to release a public notice to residents to fully explain the fee.
Susan Ohlund asked why not implement a gas tax, rather than the transportation fee? She said it’s not fair for people who live on gravel roads in the city to pay the fee when their roads aren’t paved.
Marjorie Estrada said she lives on East Jackson, which isn’t paved, and asked why can’t businesses, the hospital, the courthouse, schools, and other institutions pay the street repair costs, rather than residents?
“Because I’m not getting anything out of the $5 fee,” she said.
Estrada also asked why the city can’t use funds apportioned by the transportation bill that was recently passed by the Oregon House?
Later in the meeting, the council explained that it looked at a gas tax, but with only two gas stations in the city, a gas tax would likely send drivers into Hines, where gas would be less expensive, defeating the purpose.
As for the transportation funds, they are already earmarked by the bill for specific projects.
Kelly Edmondson said the fee wasn’t fair because some residents have more vehicles than others, so they are paying less per vehicle than residents that have just one.
He added that he thought turning off the water after a 50-day delinquency is unfair.
The council took no action on the ordinance.
City Manager Dauna Wensenk reported that she attended another meeting regarding flooding issues. She said they identified two areas to clean along the Silvies River. One because of garbage, and the other because of willows. The city plans to widen the channel and remove the garbage, and the Department of State Lands has no objections. She added that it is a joint effort between the city and the county, and the project will be going out for bids.
On Oct. 13-15, the city will offer free Dumpsters for yard debris. The Dumpsters will be placed at the former Lincoln Junior High building, city hall, and Washington Park.
Wensenk said the city will receive $3 million from the transportation package for pedestrian safety improvements, and she asked that a committee be appointed to look at the different options for how the money could be spent.
Elizabeth Howerton, a home care worker with the elderly and disabled, expressed concerns about the city sidewalks. She stated that the sidewalks in the downtown area are cracked, broken, or at a wrong incline, causing problems for people in wheelchairs. She said there have been several incidents of wheelchairs tipping over.
She added that there’s a hole in the sidewalk of the 200 block of North Broadway, which a client of hers has gotten stuck in and has had to call for help.
“I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of people looking into this for the handicapped people,” Howerton said. “I think we need to work with people on the disability act. I think we need to work on that, especially with our sidewalks. I wish maybe you guys would just take a tool around in a wheelchair and see how it is. It’s actually quite frightening when you hit that bump, and it rocks you, and you’re alone. You’re seat-belted into that wheelchair, and you’ve only got one arm, [and] you can’t save yourself. It’s quite frightening for my people.”
Mayor Jerry Woodfin noted that there was recently a crew in town doing a survey of the city sidewalks for wheelchair accessibility.
In other business:
• Public Works Director Pedro Zabala asked that residents keep the streets clear of basketball hoops, trailers, vehicles, etc., as it is getting around the time of year when it could snow;
• Detective Robby Tiller stated that there’s been a problem with drivers speeding down North Broadway near Triangle Park, so they put up the speed trailer in the area to try and slow them down;
• the council approved a request from the Xi Gamma Delta sorority to close East Washington Street from North Broadway to North Alder on Saturday, Oct. 21, for the Chili Cook-off;
• Jeni Stevens of the Kids Club of Harney County attended to request that the city vacate 10 feet on both North Birch and East Adams streets to allow room for sidewalks next to the new building. She explained that, without the added room, it wouldn’t be possible to have a regulation gymnasium built.
The council agreed to have legal counsel look at the proposal and revisit the issue at their next meeting;
• Councilors Dennis Davis and Liz Appelman urged residents to attend council meetings to stay informed.
“We’d like to get the community more engaged before a decision is made,” Davis said.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, at city hall.