City council members bid farewell to 2022

Dec. 21, 2022 — Upgrades to the Miller Park playground came closer to a reality during the Monday, Dec. 12, Florence City Council meeting, as the council voted to approve a grant that would significantly help fund new playground equipment. 

In exchange for the grant provided by Lane County Public Health (LCPH), the council voted to place certain restrictions on tobacco use in some city parks, but did not go as far as an outright ban. 

The meeting, which was both Mayor Joe Henry and Councilor Woody Woodbury’s last full session before a new city council takes over in 2023, also included a 20% increase in building permit fees, an evaluation of City Manager Erin Reynolds, praise for city staff by Henry, and a host of other ordinances and comments. 

The council decided in favor of accepting a grant worth $80,000 from Lane County Public Health (LCPH) towards the funding of a rehabilitation project for Miller Park, which includes a new play structure, an inclusive spinner, a rock climber and new seat rockers, among other amenities. 

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $205,000, and the LCPH contribution, along with other received grants and donations, leaves the City $45,152 shy of its goal.

The one stipulation LCPH gave was that the City urges park users to “refrain from smoking or using tobacco products” at parks with playground equipment. 

“When we promote tobacco-free spaces in parks, we reduce tobacco usage, and that’s been observed and then documented in 2013 from a national study,” Public Works Director Mike Miller told the council while presenting the grant.

The council voted in favor of two resolutions, one accepting the grant and another urging park users to refrain from using tobacco products on a limited

number of parks, including Miller Park, Munsel Road Park, Pepperoaks, Singing Pines and the 18th Street Pocket park. 

“You could consider all of our public parks an open space, but staff does not recommend that because you’d be including areas where there’s opportunities for folks that utilize those trails and systems that do smoke,” said Miller, mentioning areas such as Exploding Whale Memorial Park and the Interpretive Center in Old Town. “We’re really focusing on the children and the benefit to the children.”

He provided a list of surrounding cities that already restrict smoking in parks, including Lincoln City and Newport, as well as state and county parks such as Jessie M. Honeyman. In some cases, cities impose fines, but Miller did not recommend doing so.

“I don’t have the staff, and the police department doesn’t have the staff to enforce this,” said Miller, who instead suggested focusing on signage encouraging no tobacco use. “When you look at what happens out at Miller Park during baseball and softball tournaments, a lot of parents, whether it’s foul language or other things that are happening, peer pressure goes a long way and hopefully will help police and correct itself on its own.”  

Miller showed a survey taken from between 2010 and 2013 showing 32% of Florence and Dunes City residents classified as “adults who smoke cigarettes.” This was compared to all of Lane County with 22%, Eugene at 19% and Veneta at 17%. Miller believed the prevalence was due to the “older generation in town, and some of our economic factors.”

For teens, Miller reported tobacco use has risen steadily in recent years, including a rise from 17.5% in 2013 to 27.1% in 2019. This was driven by e-cigarette use, which saw a dramatic jump from 3.9% — when the product was still in its infancy — to 25.2% in 2019. 

“I’m personally in support of both of these resolutions, having watched my mother die at 59 years old because of cigarettes,” said Councilor Rob Ward, before the council approved both measures unanimously.

Also during the meeting, the council approved a resolution to revise building permitting fees by 20%. The permit fees, which also covers inspections, have not been updated since 2005.

“There were a lot of changes since then, which had to do with methodology or eliminating fees, but nothing that increased fees,” Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell said.

She added that in 2009, the state changed the methodology in how the city could determine fees: “Since 2005, the Consumer Price Index has increased 35%.”

The recession of 2008 also saw a reduction of staff in the building department, with the in-house inspector laid off after new building drastically slowed. Since then, the city contracts all inspections with Northwest Code Professionals out of Eugene.

“Administrative services did a very conservative estimate, extremely conservative, that we’re 17.4% under what we need to operate the department,” FarleyCampbell said, stating that the difference is taken out of the general fund. 

She provided an example of an increase to a Single Family Residential dwelling permit, which would raise from $1,942 in 2022 to $2,331 in 2023. 

“We hope that this alleviates pressure on the general fund to pay for the building department and get us more self-sustaining in the building department,” said Reynolds. “And that should allow the general fund to invest in some other programs or activities going forward.” 

As to why the fees have not been increased since then, Reynolds gave multiple reasons. 

“There’s been some policy decisions to not change the building department fees to help encourage more building and construction,” she said, adding the city had been working closely with the state for a number of years to keep the building inspection process in-house. “You could argue that maybe we’ve waited a few too many years. But here we are now, 17 years later. We’ve done quite a bit of financial analysis over the last couple of years showing this is a good step towards some better cost recovery.”

Also included in the increase are additional categories that would require permits. 

“We have solar and renewable energy that includes wind. And then we needed to add some things that the state found that were lacking, like fire sprinkler structures,” FarleyCampbell said, clarifying later that the city does charge for these, but it goes through a different process.  

Henry expressed concerns about renewable energy: “It would seem to me if we are concerned about the climate, we could charge more on the top and give people a credit for those other things.” 

He later asked, “Having a solar hot water heater in my garage, am I going to have to have it inspected?”

“Yes,” FarleyCampbell replied, while Ward added that wiring would need to be inspected in the process. 

The council voted 4-1, with Henry voting against, pointing to concerns about renewable energy. 

In public comments, the sole speaker Michael Allen thanked Henry and Woodbury for their service to the city, later adding, “I support EMAC’s unanimous recommendation to add Climate Resilience to its work plan and ask that the new council vote to accept it. With a fresh and insightful resolve from the council and its new leadership, our community will be given the chance to advance policies necessary for a more resilient future for all Florence residents.”

The council also was asked to vote on a pair of ordinances, the first being a confirmation of marijuana business land use definitions. No changes to marijuana laws were being made, and the vote was to add already defined laws on marijuana to parts of city code, which were missing due to an error in a 2016 revision of code. The council approved the change unanimously.

However, the council decided to hold off on a vote for an ordinance that would update the city’s building administration code updates. City staff had worked with Northwest Code Professionals, who prepared a model code that would align city code with state building code programs, fix inaccuracies and missing information, and codify Oregon state statutes. 

Over 40 pages of documentation was given on the issue, and the council held off voting until the next meeting to make a final decision on the changes. 

In councilor reports, Councilor Bill Meyer, who also serves on the Port of Siuslaw Board of Commissioners, spoke of efforts in cleaning up a local beach.

“I want to report a team effort that went on behind the scenes people weren’t aware of,” he said. “We were developing an issue up the river and it was becoming known as trash island.”

Port staff, along with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, cooperated in the effort, “handling trash, putting it in the dumpster, and they got it cleaned up,” Meyer said. “It’s a major accomplishment. People don’t even know this stuff goes on behind the scenes that keep Florence, Florence.”

Finally, the city approved the City Manager Evaluation for Reynolds, who received a score of 3.98 out 4.00 (99.5%) for her performance over the last year. 

The Quality Review Team consisted of Henry and Woodbury, as well as individual evaluations by the entire council, on topics ranging from council relations to work habits and stakeholder and customer relations. 

The council approved restating prior contract amendments, including Reynolds’ four-year contract which started on Jan. 1, 2022, a vacation cash-out and no increases to her base wage.

“It’s been my pleasure to work with Erin for the past 10 years, and I have to tell you that having had a lot of experience with high-performance employees, she is one of the top that I’ve ever worked with,” Henry said. “And it’s reflected in the quality of people and work effort that we received from our staff, that are just outstanding.”

Reynolds thanked Henry for the recognition, adding, “I do believe my proudest achievement is to have the staff be excellent and amazing — and it’s been a pretty great 10 years.”

Later in the meeting, Reynolds thanked Henry and Woodbury specifically for their service, both of whom were participating in their final full city council meeting before stepping down Jan. 3 when the new council takes over. 

“There’s really not enough words of gratitude to say to Mayor Henry and Councilor Woodbury. I’m gonna miss you two,” Reynolds said. 

Henry frequently praised the staff throughout the meeting, saying Chief John Pitcher “has stepped in after the unfortunate death of our police chief and done an excellent job — it’s reflected in the smiles on the face of your officers when we see them out in the public and interacting with the community.”

He recalled the evening of the tree lighting ceremony, when Miller drove the hayride tractor up and down Old Town for the festivities, smiling as he went — “We’re very fortunate to have this guy, folks.”

For Assistant City Manager Megann Messmer, Henry said, “I often wonder why she’s still here because you could go be a city manager in many, many cities in our state, and we’re not gonna let her go.”

Henry also thanked City Recorder Lindsay White for her commitment to the role, as well as all the city staff who work behind the scenes.

“For Wendy [FarleyCampbell], last but not least, they really work behind the scenes. You saw what Wendy had to go through here for 20 minutes. Well, she does that eight or ten hours a day, every day.”

For his closing comments, Henry reiterated how much he enjoyed the tree lighting ceremony. 

“Other than that, I just wish everybody a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. And we’ll see you on Jan. 3. Happy New Year.”