The Philomath City Council approved amendments to the city's ordinance on nuisances during its monthly meeting on Monday night. The updated municipal code will allow the city to charge property owners for performing an abatement of a declared nuisance and place a lien against the property, if needed.
Deputy City Attorney Amy Cook and other staff helped draft new language for the code while working with the police committee. The recommended ordinance amendments were forwarded to the city council out of Jan. 29 and March 12 committee meetings.
"This process would be to allow the city to abate it after the notice to the property owner but it sets it out so that the city can recover the cost of the abatement," Cook said at the Jan. 29 meeting. "Under the current code, they don't have that provision."
What is an abatement? It comes into play when a resident is in violation of code, such as when a property needs to be cleaned up.
"Either you voluntarily clean up your property and bring it up to code or if you fail to do so, then the city will go in, clean it up to the standard required by the code and then charge you for the cleanup cost," Cook explained at a committee meeting.
Chief of Police Ken Rueben said at the committee level that he had no issues with the changes. Councilors Doug Edmonds, Matthew Thomas and Terry Weiss sit on the police committee.
Weiss said at Monday's city council meeting that she felt the language changes were well written but said she thought there would be more public participation and asked if there could be a hearing.
"One of the things that seems to have become very clear is you need a broad range of people's perspectives," Weiss said. "I couldn't find anything in here that affected me but I don't know everything certainly."
Mayor Eric Niemann said the public can be heard at the committee level on such issues. Further hearings occur at the council level only on issues that could be seen as significant or create concern, he added.
"That agenda is noticed ahead of time in terms of what's going to be on the police committee agenda and they're noticed when those committee meetings happen," Niemann said. "I think it's been a pretty normal course of business that concerned citizens come to committee meetings when there's a particular item that they're interested in or concerned with."
Weiss reiterated that she had no problems with the changes but only that she would've liked to have seen more publicity about what was being considered at the committee level.
The conversation ventured over into other items in the nuisances ordinance, such as enforcement questions on things like snow removal from sidewalks. The discussion indicated that a review of other specifics of the code could occur in the near future.
The amended ordinance passed on a 6-0 roll-call vote (Doug Edmonds absent).
In other news from the April 8 meeting:
• The city council held a public hearing on a proposed building permit program investigative fee. Nobody testified at the hearing.
• The city council approved an Oregon Liquor Control Commission permit application by Dirt Road Brewery, which plans to open a taphouse and restaurant at 1301 Main St., and brew beer in a location at 120 S. Tenth St., No. B.
• The city council approved on a 6-0 vote an appropriation of $47,350 into the street fund to pay for a chip seal project on four city streets. The city received the money through an Oregon Department of Transportation Small City Allotment grant. Finance Director Joan Swanson said Benton County Public Works has scheduled to complete the work in June.
• Councilor Marion Dark spoke about an alleged incident that occurred following last month's meeting that involved a confrontation between city officials and a citizen seeking more information on an issue. Dark said that city representatives need to be held to higher standards and to respond to citizens in a professional manner.
• Weiss made a motion to reconsider Resolution 19-01 on the setting of utility rates, which had been approved on a 4-3 vote at the March meeting. Weiss expressed an opinion that there was a lack of transparency on the issue. The motion was not seconded and failed.
• Niemann reported that he had reached out to various officials with expertise on the water situation in the Willamette Valley and Philomath about participating in a town hall on that topic. Niemann will continue to explore the possibility of setting up such an event.
• Swanson reported in the finance director's report that the city has received an upgrade from an "A" rating to an "AA-minus" rating from Standard & Poor's. Swanson said the improved rating reflects well on the city. "If we do any bond financing in the future, that would significantly help us get a lower interest rate and sell bonds," Swanson explained.
• Niemann proclaimed April 25 as Philomath Arbor Day. A tree-planting activity for schoolchildren will take place on that day in the Philomath Public Works yard.
• Niemann proclaimed May 5-11 as Philomath Drinking Water Week, an event urging citizens to “support efforts to protect, conserve and understand the importance of our water.”
• Niemann proclaimed April as Grange Month, an effort to recognize the legacy and current efforts of the organization, which has a local chapter in Marys River Grange.
• Among the citizens that talked during the public comment period were Al Lahey (issues with neighboring subdivision), Robert Biscoe (nuisance ordinance amendment questions), Mark Weiss (concerns over public participation), Rick Flacco (suggestion of ordinance requiring home sellers to provide home energy scores to prospective buyers) and Sandy Heath (concerns over lack of city official participation in local democracy education effort).
• The council tabled the approval of a consent agenda because of disputes involving minutes from the last meeting.
• Niemann recognized the accomplishments of Eagle Scout Atli Thurman with a certificate of appreciation for his community service project at Lupe's Community Garden. (See "News Trackers" for more information.)
• Melissa Goff, Philomath superintendent of schools, and Van Hunsaker, community volunteer and former mayor, spoke to councilors about coming on board with an initiative to help homeless families in Philomath. (See "News Trackers" for more information).