Council weighs tobacco limits

Written by Terri Harber April 24, 2013 08:47 am

By Terri Harber

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Benjamin Foster, a student at Eastern Oregon University and an intern at City Hall, addressed the City Council Tuesday to promote his proposal to ban the use of tobacco products in city parks and recreation areas.

Foster, who lives in Baker City and is minoring in government at EOU, drafted proposed ordinance 3322.

The ordinance would exclude the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course from the tobacco ban.

Foster spoke at a council meeting earlier this year and asked for the ban then. He returned Tuesday night to promote the idea again.

In explaining the purpose behind the proposed ordinance, Foster pointed out that in one survey Baker County “was dead last in health standings.”

He was referring to a University of Wisconsin study of the health of residents in counties across the U.S.  Baker County came up last in this year’s survey, he said.

In addition, a survey by the Oregon Health Authority in 2011 found that Baker County 11th-graders and adults are more likely to smoke than their counterparts statewide.

Foster believes banning tobacco in parks would not only prove healthier for families, but it would keep the parks cleaner and even make events, such as Miners Jubilee, more attractive for all ages.   

Councilor Dennis Dorrah asked if there was proof that secondhand smoke is harmful. 

“I have a tough time with this — taking away individual freedoms without evidence,” Dorrah said. “Before I can be in favor of this I’d like to see actual data.”

“We’re not telling them they can’t use the parks — just preventing them from smoking,” said Councilor Kim Mosier, a parent of young children. 

It’s not just the secondhand smoke but “the behavior,” she said.

“My children see it,” Mosier said. Smoking “becomes an option in their minds.”

She also pointed out that the ordinance would allow police to talk to people they see smoking about other issues, such as excessive noise or other rowdy behavior, that people living near Central Park have complained about.

They call them “ruffians,” Mosier pointed out, slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Councilor Mike Downing, who also has younger children, said he has heard from residents about the proposal. They are concerned about their rights.

Downing said he and his family also have rights — they can’t enjoy the park because of the secondhand smoke. 

Downing and Mosier said it’s hard to keep little fingers and mouths away from discarded cigarette butts.

Foster also said the councilors could set aside areas in parks where people could smoke, instead of banning tobacco products outright.

Councilors want to continue talking about the proposed ban and they asked Foster to come back with a revised version of the ordinance.

How the city would deal with people who break the rule hasn’t been considered.They could ask people to leave or write citations, for example.

Councilors Clair Button and Roger Coles were absent Tuesday.

“There are use of seatbelt laws, and drinking and driving laws,” Foster said after the meeting. “Public consensus has changed. The culture has changed.”

Among Oregon communities which fully ban tobacco use from their parks and recreation areas are Bend and Prineville. 

Sidewalk Utility Ordinance

The councilors accepted the first reading of the Sidewalk Utility Fee Ordinance, No. 3318.

The program has a large surplus of money, $80,000 as of June 2012, that hasn’t been allocated to property owners for sidewalk repair or replacement.  

“A lot of people in this community like to walk,” said Councilor Barbara Johnson. 

She explained that she’s heard from quite a few people about the matter.

The councilors approved first reading of the ordinance by a vote of 5-0. This keeps the ordinance in place until June 30, 2018.

The program began in 2008. Money collected is used to repair or replace sidewalks in disrepair.

About $50,000 is collected each year, and 75 percent is available for the repair grants, which pay some, but not all, the cost of replacing or repairing a sidewalk.

The property owner has to pay the remainder.

Cost is $1 a month for residents and $2 a month for those with commercial and industrial utility accounts. 

 Suzanne Fouty submitted an idea for how to use some of the surplus sidewalk money: Mollie Atwater and Friends Spay/Neuter Fund.

She distributed copies of a report about the nonprofit and asked that a portion of the money collected go to “assist in the MAF’s efforts in reducing the numbers of homeless and unwanted cats and dogs in Baker City and Baker County.”

She said she believes two of the 12 payments should go toward this effort.

Fouty also asked the councilors to put the matter on their next meeting agenda.

Dorrah believes the city should stop collecting the sidewalk fee for as long as two or three years, until the surplus in the fund has been depleted.

Johnson disagreed.

“We should use it — and keep collecting it — until we get these sidewalks into shape,” she said.

Councilors opted to remove the sidewalk fee from a larger resolution that includes many other city fees, including ambulance costs and water, building and planning permit charges.

Councilors might decide at their next meeting, May 14, whether to continue charging the sidewalk fee when the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

The Council approved the wider fees resolution, No. 3694, without the sidewalk fee included, by a 4-1 vote, with Johnson opposed.

Staff members have suggested that the sidewalk money could be allocated differently to spark more interest among residents to apply for grants.

Applications for sidewalk grants have dropped substantially since the fee program was started in 2008.

“There are several different ways we could use this money better,”  said City Manager Mike Kee. 

One way would be to get the checks out faster because the city doesn’t pay for projects until “after the fact,” he said. 

Another possibility would be to increase the maximum grant amount (the current limits are $1,250 for regular lots, and $1,500 for corner lots with sidewalks on two sides).

Another idea is to award grants to property owners who don’t currently have sidewalks, so long as the property owner has been paying the fee, said Michelle Owen, public works director.

Currently, grants are available only to repair or replace an existing sidewalk.

The Fee Resolution, No. 3694, affects prices for such services as ambulance transports, kennel permits and water, building and planning as well as costs for various municipal cemetery products. 

In other business, the councilors:

• Accepted second reading of Ordinance No. 3319, the franchise agreement between the city and LightSpeed Networks Inc., The city would receive 7 percent of the LightSpeed’s local gross revenue. 

• Opted to wait until next month to take action on the Neighborhood Project Grant, Ordinance No. 3320.

• Heard the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Well Use Report. This is required under a state permit that allows the city to inject mountain water into a city well from Nov. 1 to July 15.

 • Approved Resolution No. 3695, which authorizes the city to apply for a Local Government Grant to acquire new play equipment for Geiser-Pollman Park.