By Randy Parks
Newly elected Mayor Len Vohs and councilors Darwin Johnson, Bill Renwick and Dan Hoke were sworn in at the Burns City Council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14.
Before turning the gavel over to Vohs, outgoing Mayor Laura Van Cleave thanked the citizens and council for the opportunity to serve them and the city and was presented with a bouquet of flowers.
After taking the mayor’s seat, Vohs noted the city is facing a number of tough issues at the present time and, “We have our work cut out for us,” he said.
Melanie Epping, who works with the Harney County Save A Stray Rescue program, was present to ask the council to waive the $14 impound fee they have to pay the city for each dog they take custody of from the Harney County Veterinary Clinic. Epping told the council that at the present time, the fees are coming “out-of-pocket” and, “While it doesn’t seem like much, it adds up,” she said. She added that so far, they have found new homes for approximately 30 dogs that were impounded.
Epping said that the city wouldn’t really be losing any money because if the program doesn’t rescue the dog(s), they will be euthanized and the city won’t see the $14 fee anyway.
Councilor Linda Johnson, who attended the meeting by phone, pointed out that the city has to pay the clinic an impound fee for every dog that’s picked up, and the $14 fee does make a difference in the city’s budget.
Councilor Craig LaFollette said he would support waiving the fee because the volunteers of the rescue program are providing a valuable service to the city by taking care of the animals and finding out-of-town homes for them.
After some discussion, the council agreed to look at the figures a little more closely and hopefully have a decision by their next meeting.
The council then reviewed the lack of funding for the Burns Police Department’s office manager position. Interim City Manager Bill Guindon told the council that if the position is funded at current levels for salary and benefits, there will be a shortfall of more than $7,500 by the end of the fiscal year. Guindon presented several options for the council to examine, which included cutting the position back to either 30 or 20 hours a week.
Police Chief Randy Cook told the council the position is important to the department in areas of paperwork and evidence, as well as allowing other officers to spend more time on patrol. “I want the 40 hours. The position is critical to our operation,” Cook said. “We have an experienced person in that position, the paperwork stays current, and he is an excellent resource for the other officers. We have a responsibility to the public, and I’d challenge you to find the funds.”
Councilor Johnson said she would like to keep the position at 40 hours, but the big issue is budgetary. “We’re supposed to be financially responsible to our constituents, and we don’t have the money,” she said. “Chief Cook and Bill (Guindon) have crunched the numbers and the money isn’t there in the police budget, and we can’t keep taking money out of the contingency fund.” Johnson suggested cutting the position back to 20 hours until the next budget cycle and then fully fund it at that time because it is important.
Vohs said because it’s a matter of public safety, the city may just have to “bite the bullet” and come up with the funds somehow. “The position was originally to have been funded at $38,000, but that amount was reduced to $29,000 in the budget,” Vohs said. “People tweak the budget, and the council’s not aware of it.”
Councilor Bill Renwick said he felt it was a management matter and that Guindon should work with Chief Cook to see if they can find the funds to keep it at 40 hours. “It is important, so see what you can do,” Renwick said.
Councilor Dan Hoke reported the search committee for a new city manager had received 15 applications for the position. Of the 15, five were from the local area, three from around the state and seven from the western half of the country. Seven of the applicants were interviewed by the committee, resulting in a short list of four applicants.
Hoke said two of the four lived out of the area, and he wanted to know about reimbursement for travel for those two so they could attend face-to-face interviews. After some discussion, a motion was made to reimburse the applicants’ travel expenses within reason, and the motion passed unanimously.
Hoke said that once background and reference checks were completed, the committee would begin to schedule interviews.
In other business, the council:
• approved a cardroom at the Pine Room application for Wes R. Bilyeu;
• approved an amendment to the agreement with RCC Atlantic/Verizon for rental space on the water tower behind Slater Elementary School. The amendment provides additional rental space on the water tower at a fee of $300 per month.
• voted to pay invoices to Steve Finlayson in the amount $3,501.24, and to Morrison-Maierle, Inc. in the amount of $6,918.05;
• was invited to attend the Robert Burns Night on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Burns Elks Lodge;
• commended the public works crew for the job they did on removing snow from the city streets.
The next city council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, at Burns City Hall.