LONG CREEK - The voters of Long Creek have spoken. They want the city to buy a defunct mill site in town.
Now the Long Creek City Council has agreed to seek the advice of city attorney Michelle Timko of Fossil to help the elected leaders make a decision.
Fifty-seven registered voters who live in the city returned surveys. About 48 percent of the 119 people polled answered the question. Of those responding, 39 said they supported the city repurchasing the 17.5-acre mill site from Emerald International Inc.; 18 said they opposed the repurchase.
At a Jan. 22 meeting, councilors agreed to distribute surveys. On Feb. 11, the city council announced the results. Councilors decided to count the votes as straight "yes" or "no" votes, without considering qualifiers, such as the proviso that voters would support the purchase if it would bring jobs to the poverty-stricken community.
Citizen Dale Martin urged the city council to heed the will of the voters. He also questioned the council's plan to meet in closed executive session to consult Timko.
"To me, it's public property, and I'm having a problem with this secrecy," he said.
However, councilor Amy Kreger pointed out that the law allows public bodies to exclude citizens from meetings under certain circumstances. Mayor Clifford Smith said the city council is not allowed by law to make a decision in executive session.
The Oregon Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual states: "A governing body may hold an open session even when the law permits it to hold an executive session. However, the governing body has the authority to hold closed sessions regarding the following," and lists 12 topics, including "employment of public officers, employees and agents" and "labor negotiator consultations."
"Executive sessions are appropriate for consultation with counsel concerning legal rights and duties regarding current litigation or litigation likely to be filed," the manual states. However, the manual adds, "Other discussions with counsel generally must be held in open session."
Another exclusion allows executive sessions "to deliberate with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions," but the manual adds, "The executive session must be limited to discussions of negotiations regarding specific real property and may not include discussion of a public body's space needs or general policies concerning lease sites."
A date for his meeting, and what clause of the open meetings law the city will invoke, was not determined at the meeting. Councilors said the city would work around Timko's schedule and ideally schedule a meeting before the council's next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 13.
In other business:
The city council also postponed a decision on what to do with Long Creek's garbage transfer station pending a discussion with Timko. Kreger said her research indicated that cities shy away from handling trash due to cost and liability issues.
"Most cities don't want to be in the garbage business," Kreger said.
Long Creek loses money on the transfer station, according to city leaders.
"We have an illegal fund. We can't run in the negative," Kreger said.
The city charges a residential rate of $15 a month for bagged garbage. With a $1,500 state permit fee, tipping fees at Arlington and trucking and maintenance costs, the city loses money, said city recorder Wanda McHatton. A decline in use has cut into the city's margin, she said.
"They were just barely making it when everyone was paying," McHatton said.
Citizen Paul Bennett appealed to the city council to avert a rate hike.
"You people are running the people out of town," he said.
McHatton estimated that an average citizen pays $40.50 a month with water ($10.50), sewer ($15) and garbage ($15).
Councilor Charles Born agreed, "The last time, we raised the dump rates. We can't keep doing that."
Kreger said, "I utilize the dump, and I don't want to lose it," but she noted that the city is "governed by other people," referring to state and federal laws. Monthly rates for garbage pickup in other cities varies from $12 a month in Monument to $25 a month in Redmond.
Councilors voted 4-0 to treat a delinquent water bill consistent with the city's policy. The city council agreed to clarify its water shut-off and billing policy for disconnected utility users at the next meeting.
For more information, call the Long Creek City Hall at 421-3601.