The city of John Day is considering impounding vehicles when drivers stopped for a traffic violation are repeat offenders and behind on fine payments, Police Chief Mike Durr told the city council Feb. 12.

Some repeat offenders who don’t have a valid driver’s license or insurance have been put on a payment plan by the courts but aren’t making the payments, he said. One woman has racked up about $12,000 in fines, he noted.

The impounded vehicle owner will be responsible for the towing and storage charges and an administrative fee to the city. All vehicle and driver requirements must be met to retrieve a vehicle, including license plates, registration, insurance and a driver’s license, he said.

It would be up to the tow truck company to decide what to do with vehicles that are never retrieved, Durr said.

Annual report

According to the city’s “Annual Public Safety Review,” public safety spending in fiscal year 2017-18 included $422,840 for police, $173,676 for fire and $423,116 for 911 dispatch.

Total spending has increased about $23,000 per year from about $500,000 in FY1999 to $1 million in FY2018, which is faster than inflation, City Manager Nick Green said. The $100,000 increase in the past fiscal year resulted from capital improvements, he said.

Transition of 911 dispatch service from the city to the Grant County Emergency Communications Agency effective Jan. 1 will significantly change public safety spending. The city will no longer receive funding from a state tax on phone bills, but the tax revenue was not keeping up with the cost of providing emergency communications service.

Dispatch consoles and other furniture have been installed at the new dispatch center in the John Day Fire Hall, and the council approved a payment of $49,476 to Evans Consoles Inc. of Virginia for the new consoles. A lease agreement for use of the fire hall space has been fully executed, Green said.

Remaining work for the dispatch center includes fiber optic work by Blue Mountain Telecom and installation of security cameras and magnetic door locks. Dispatch service is expected to physically move from the John Day City Hall to the fire hall in early March, Green said.

This year’s annual public safety review document lacked statistics from local agencies, Green said, but according to Oregon Uniform Crime Report figures from 2016, Grant County ranks fairly well for three crime rates compared to Oregon’s 36 counties – 13th for behavioral crimes, 29th for personal and 25th for property.

Police department

Durr has been chief for about half a year now and also has been serving as the school resource officer at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School. He said some policy changes should improve service, such as providing overlapping and more flexible shifts, which will allow two officers to be on duty in busy time periods.

A more proactive than reactive approach, with officers contacting residents and establishing a relationship, has reduced call outs, Durr said, but he didn’t have the numbers yet to support that conclusion. His officers investigated two serious domestic assault cases that led to prison sentences last year.

Durr said the department’s four vehicles have less than 100,000 miles and won’t need replacement for several years. Plans call for purchasing two electronic radar signs for installation at two locations with the most complaints – Highway 26 east of John Day and the intersection of Bridge and Third streets. He also said he wants to sell the department’s 12 aged shotguns and purchase five new identical shotguns.

With the recent return of a new officer from the police academy, the department is now up to full staffing levels, Durr said. Online training will allow the officers to maintain certification with less travel. Durr said he is considering hiring a part-time clerical clerk and training Officer Scott Moore to fill in for Durr when he’s absent.

Fire department

John Day Fire Chief Ron Smith also updated the council. The fire department has 12 volunteers, including an assistant chief and two lieutenants. He said the staff support moving 911 dispatch to the fire hall as it will provide 24/7 security.

Most fires in the John Day area are weather-related as opposed to human-caused, Smith said. The past year was not a busy year, with few significant fires. The department responded to 30 city calls and 19 rural, including mutual aid calls, he said.

Looking forward, Smith noted that the department’s backup engine has some issues, and they are beginning to look for a replacement pumper. With the fire hall completed, the compressor system for the department’s self-contained breathing apparatus will be moved from the public works department to the fire hall, which will make topping off bottles after a call much easier, he said.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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