Joseph City Administrator Sandy Patterson is the latest to resign her position.
The announcement came during a June 29 special meeting to adopt a city budget and read three ordinances related to sewer and water fees and a street user fee.
Questions about the proposed fee hikes were heard prior to the vote.
Joseph citizen Kirsten Rohla spoke during the first public comment opportunity on the agenda. She said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to paying the fee hikes. She did take issue with the “suddenness” of the fees.
“I feel like they came very suddenly, without a great deal of warning,” she said. “I think adding smaller fees five or 10 years ago would have been a better way to go about this, and I feel like it was poorly done.”
Rohla said she wanted to make sure that the money paid into the user fees would be used honestly, with transparency and for the purposes intended.
Mayor Dennis Sands explained that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was tightening its regulations to the point where the city would no longer be able to pump its treated wastewater into Prairie Creek in the winter months.
The mayor said that discussions with Anderson & Perry Engineering indicated that the most efficient way to rectify the problem was to build two additional holding ponds.
The anticipated cost for the project is $3.1 million. The city also needs a number of its steel waterlines replaced at an estimated cost of $1.8 million. Sands noted that the council had raised sewer rates in the past for the projects but it wasn’t enough.
“We’re not even close,” he said. Sands added that the present sewer and water resolution fees were destined for a special reserve fund to rebuild the sewer plant and replace the waterlines.
Resolution 2018-02, which raised sewer and water fees $6 per month, was approved with council member Marty Hamilton casting a dissenting vote.
After introducing Resolution 2018-03, which initiates street user fees of $6 per month, Sands immediately spoke against it. He said he thought increased grant revenue from the state would cover future paving projects.
Council member Teresa Sajonia said she didn’t want to bank the future of street repair on grants.
“I’d like to see us take the bull by the horns, make the tough decisions and get our city back to where our citizens can appreciate living here,” she said. Sajonia also noted the council could vote to modify the resolution, and the city will still seek out grant funding in addition to the user fee revenue.
The resolution was approved with Sands and Hamilton casting dissenting votes.
Sands recused himself from the discussion and vote on the budget as it contained the city’s contract with the Wallowa County Sheriff’s office. Sands’ sister, Sharon Newell, is a part-time deputy for the agency.
Mayor pro-tem Sajonia took over the meeting. City administrator Sandra Patterson made several numerical changes to the document.
After audience discussion on the sheriff’s office, Sajonia asked if anyone else had budget questions.
“We have the money, right, sitting in a bank account somewhere?” asked Hamilton, a new council member.
“I’m going to put this out there, and it’s not a popular thing, probably at this table,” Sajonia said. “I will be voting no on this budget tonight.”
She went on to explain that she couldn’t vote for the budget without the city’s financial statements in front of her. She also said for that reason, she found it hard to believe anyone could vote to approve it.
Council member Mike Lockhart said he had concerns as well. Council member Pearl Sturm suggested asking Patterson for the city’s financial status. Patterson replied that Susan Gilstrap, a local accountant, was going over the city’s financials.
Sajonia said the city had to approve a budget by the following day. Lockhart added that the recent city staffing issues and the cost of the sheriff’s contract left him a little uncomfortable. Sajonia replied she had requested financial statements on Monday, June 25, and hadn’t seen them.
The mayor pro-tem said that a motion to approve the budget should word it in a way that the council could re-address it and make changes depending on what the financial statements revealed.
Lockhart asked what the consequences were for passing a late budget. Sajonia said she couldn’t answer and Patterson replied, “You’ll be in trouble.” She did not elaborate.
Patterson told Hamilton the numbers in the document were close, and she had the city’s financials sitting on the counter in the office. She also said that budgets were only an estimate of what was proposed, and were not exact.
“It’s only a guess,” she said.
Audience member Kathy Norman asked why, if the financials are sitting somewhere, they were not before the council? “How can you vote on something that’s not in front of you?” she asked.
Patterson explained that the reason the council didn’t have the financials is because they didn’t like the way they were formatted. Council discussion indicated that only Sajonia had questioned the formatting.
“Do we have financial statements that state our present position available?” Lockhart asked.
“Yes,” Patterson said.
A vote on the document proved problematic. Hamilton, who had earlier attempted a motion to approve, said he was backing out. Discussion ensued regarding having Patterson returning to city hall to bring back copies of the financials, although she said it would take hours to go through them.
From the audience, Joseph citizen Raider Heck spoke.
“I’ve heard ‘you have to pass it or you’re in trouble.’ What exactly is that?”
The administrator said she didn’t know.
“So we don’t really know that we have to,” Heck said. “You have to pass one for business to carry on. It it’s not passed, I assume business stops. Maybe that’s the shock this council needs to figure out how to get things in order.”
Sajonia reiterated her position about only passing the budget with the idea of reconvening the budget committee once the formatted financial statements became available. The council then voted to approve the budget 5-1 with Sajonia as the dissenting vote.
Patterson resigned as city administrator after the meeting.