The Joseph City Council met on Thursday, Aug. 1. During staff reports, city administrator, Larry Braden, proposed closing city hall during Chief Joseph Days rodeo weekend because of the extra work created for the office in visitors and vendors interrupting office work to ask questions better addressed by the chamber of commerce or the rodeo board.
Later, during public comment, a citizen brought up the burden on the city created by the rodeo and asked if the city were reimbursed by the rodeo for any work the city performed directly related to the event.
Also during the citizen comment, Kathy Norman mentioned that she had recently suffered an act of vandalism and found the response of the sheriff’s office to be unfortunate at best.
“What’s the status of law enforcement in Joseph,” Norman asked. “I kind of felt like I was a target, and that’s all I need to say right now.”
Norman also brought up the subject of the recent hikes to sewer, water and street user fees.
“Can someone explain the difference to me between a fee, a tax and a resolution?” Norman asked. “And when did the people of Joseph, that pay the fees, taxes and subsequent costs of resolutions, when do we get notified of these things?”
Mayor Teresa Sajonia asked Norman to be more specific about which fees or taxes to which Norman was referring. Norman replied that citizens were hit with a bigger water bill about 14 months previously, along with a street tax.
“Apparently, we have another one that I was told was a resolution,” Norman said. “So how come we didn’t know about this.” She noted that she and her domestic partner could pay it, but it amounted to more than $600 per year, and people on a fixed income might have a difficult time paying it. “So where’s the community discussion?” Norman asked.
Sajonia said the council had held open meetings discussing the subject for the last 2.5 years. She added that the council had had a minimum three meetings with Anderson Perry, the firm hired to facilitate the utility projects. “The majority of the council meetings have addressed upcoming rate increases, water/sewer updates, where we’re at on the roads, all of these things. they have been here and open to the public,” Sajonia said.
Norman replied that going to the post office to look at agendas was not convenient for many people. After Sajonia said that the agenda is also posted at city hall, Norman said she had missed the previous meeting and didn’t remember the subject matter coming up in other recent meetings. Sajonia disagreed and added that no one wanted to pay more money, but the city had no choice.
Norman then asked again for the difference between a tax, fee and resolution. Sajonia explained that a resolution is what is made by a decision of the council with public input. She then admitted she did not know if there was a difference between a tax and a fee.
A tax has to be voted on, correct?” Norman asked.
“Yes,” Sajonia said, “but we can do this by resolution by Oregon State law.” The two also agreed that a fee does not have to go before the voters. Sajonia also ascertained that the initial rise in sewer/water and street repair were also fees. She added, using street repair as an example, that records exist that show the present and previous councils have asked for public input at open meetings.
“Every single one says yes, we need these things,” she said. Norman asked if the records were available on request and Sajonia said they were. Council member Marty Hamilton and some audience members said that the city was required to raise the rates in order to get low-interest loans from the government to pay for much needed repairs and a new holding pond for waste treatment.
The sewer and water issue came up again when a letter from Joseph citizen Judy Kinsley was read into the record. Kinsley said that she ended up with a tremendous water bill because of a toilet leak. She was initially denied a bill reduction even though the meter went unread for six months, which hid the leakage issue from her.
Council member Hamilton asked if Kinsley could get some small reimbursement from the city, but council members and city staff nixed the idea.
The next monthly meeting takes place on Thursday, Sept. 5.