Council OKs $63,000 for library children’s room expansion

The City Council on Wednesday, Feb. 13, approved spending $63,000 from the city’s contingency funds to pay for plans to create a children’s meeting room at the Lebanon Public Library by connecting the existing room to an outside patio that would be enclosed to expand the children’s room from approximately 350 square feet to approximately 500.

Library Director Kendra Antila told councilors that the existing children’s room is too small for the crowds that have shown up for children’s storytimes, numbering 15 or more per month.

Antila said often 50 or more toddlers and young children, and their parents, pack the room and surrounding aisles between the stacks, while strollers and other childcare “paraphernalia” clog the space that remains.

Plus, the children’s events create noise.

“Imagine that you’re an adult on the public access computer trying to do your taxes and 50 voices are singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” she said.

Antila said she connected with Richard Grace of Fletcher, Farr & Ayotte, who designed the library building a decade ago. A cost estimate for the addition comes in at $616,000, she said, adding that she believes city staff could likely find ways to cut that cost significantly.

She asked the council to fund the design drawings, which will cost $94,100, a third of which will come from funds she already has from the Harriman Trust, she said.

Councilor Jason Bolen asked whether the library’s Community Meeting Room could be used for the children, but Antila said that room is a rental facility and is not set up well for use by small children and their parents, and is too far from the children’s area.

She said that “plans don’t have a shelf life” and that if they were drawn soon, she could get busy with a capital campaign to raise funds for the facility.

City Manager Gary Marks noted that construction costs appear to be rising and that the “PERS debacle” is looming in next year’s budget.

“We’re in good shape in our contingency,” he said. “Next year we’ll be confronting expenses we don’t have this year.”

City Finance Director Matt Apken agreed that contingency funds exceed the 19 percent limit the council has set.

Council members Bolen, Robert Furlow, Rebecca Grizzle, Wayne Rieskamp, Karin Stauder and Michelle Steinhebel agreed in a general consensus to fund the drawings.

In other action, the council:

  • Granted a request by John and Brady Regier to forgive all but $267.80 of a total of $5,617.17 in late charges and penalties for a property at 295 Walker Road that the Regiers purchased at a Sheriff’s auction.

Apken told the council that the total consisted of $925.76 for water charges, $125.48 for sewer charges, $101.37 for storm water and $4,414.56 in penalties. Water service for the property was locked off in May of 2013 and not turned back on before the purchase. Sewer and stormwater rates were certified to the county in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Therefore, Apken said, those amounts are less than the outstanding water charges.

The staff recommendation was to waive late fees and penalties on previous accounts that accrued after water service had been locked off for one year. In this case it would have reduced the late fees and penalties amount to $267.80.

Apken said typically such issues often are uncovered by a title company when properties are sold, but in this case the amount of the lien was not divulged and he acknowledged the Regiers had little time to research the property.

Apken also said he was uncomfortable with the way the situation played out.

“I don’t know if the current structure is set up in a way that I agree with,” he said.

Often, he said, the city doesn’t know that certain properties are vacant or that owners are doing other things, such as buying water elsewhere “or parking a water truck on their property. It’s a little convoluted.”

Apken added that he intends to look at revising utility policies governing such cases and listen to what the community has to say

Grizzle said she agreed that the situation was a “tough call.”

“If it’s a derelict property, there’s a genuine public benefit in getting that into someone’s hands who can revitalize the property,” she said.

Mayor Paul Aziz agreed with a recommendation by Apken to charge just one year of the penalties.

“This seems to make sense,” Aziz said. “It’s a derelict building.”

Councilors agreed when Bolen moved to waive the penalties and reduce the penalty to $267.80.

  • Granted reduced rental rates for Cheadle Park Guitars Under the Stars festival.

Jason Cripe, organizer of the Guitars Under the Stars Festival, asked the council at its Jan. 9 meeting to endorse the festival’s application to the Chamber of Commerce for a $5,000 tourism grant, to allow event signage on public property for 30 days prior to the festival and to grant a reduced rental rate of $100 per day for the July 26-27 event at the park.

Marks noted that the city’s agreement with the chamber transmits $50,000 annually for support of local tourism, which the chamber disburses through its Tourism Committee.

“In my experience, the chamber likes to spread it out as much as possible,” he said, adding that he was unaware of any council endorsement of any other events.

Councilors voiced support for the event, but made it clear they were reluctant to go as far as endorsing it and dictating how the chamber was to use the funds.

“I’m in favor of it coming, but I’m kind of fed up with the city being a silent partner,” Bolen said.

Steinhebel added that she didn’t want to see the city “stepping on the toes of the chamber.”

Councilors agreed they weren’t interested in endorsing the festival on an official basis.

Regarding signage, Marks said he had informed Cripe that the banner location over Oak Street was available prior to the event – “a prime advertising spot” – and that the festival would be taking advantage of that.

He said the city’s sign code allows for temporary signage, but granting the request would create a precedent.

Aziz said it “kind of annoys me” when signs are placed in Academy Square.

Marks said that signs are allowed on private property and councilors agreed that they didn’t want to grant the request.

After some further discussion, councilors, with the exception of Bolen, agreed that they would reduce the rental fee for the park to $100 per day, from a total of $2,150.

Marks noted that Cripe reported the festival has grown each of its four years, to 4,000-plus attendees last year, and that the city has either waived the fee entirely or reduced it in each of those years. He told the council Wednesday that he hasn’t made any money on the festival so far, and has invested $160,000 of his own money into the event.

Councilors indicated they were willing to grant a waiver this year, but didn’t make any promises beyond that.

“I think we can do it this year,” Steinhebel said. “I assume, at some point, he’s going to turn a profit.”

Stauder said she agreed. “At some point we have to stop.”

Aziz noted that the festival fits in with the city’s strategic plan to attract tourism, and said he wanted to see the event continue to grow.

Grizzle said she “could see doing it one more year,” telling Cripe, “Just know we’re going to grind you every year.”

Councilors also heard from a neighboring resident who complained about late-night volume of noise from last year’s concerts, which, she said, ran till 1 a.m., asking  that festival hours be limited to 9:30 p.m. on weeknights or 11 p.m. on the weekend.

Cripe told the council that, due to “feedback we received last year,” amplified music will end at 11 p.m. this year and the final performance(s) each night will be acoustic.

“We will greatly monitor the noise level this year,” he said. “We want to be a good neighbor.”

  • Adopted a Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by Linn County in collaboration with Lebanon,  Halsey, Harrisburg, Lyons, Scio, Sodaville, Tangent and Waterloo. The early 200-page plan covers “everything except volcanos,” Community Development Director Walt Wendolowski told the council. It aims to enhance coordination and communication among the participants to protect lives, property and the county’s resources through a wide variety of risk management efforts.

Endorsing the plan, Wendolowski told the council, qualifies the city for federal funds.

  • Agreed unanimously to have staff prepare a recommendation for council consideration to add a police officer staff position. Marks told councilors he was “confident” the General Fund could sustain the extra cost.
  • Agreed with a proposal by Stauder to ask Marks and City Attorney Tré Kennedy to look at preparing a city ordinance banning “dumpster diving.”  Stauder said Republic Services supports the move, which would offer some protection to the company if someone gets hurt while going through trash in one of its receptacles.

Kennedy noted that, because Republic owns the receptacles, the city can prohibit people from getting into them without authorization.

Stevenson said he supported the idea.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than when we get a call that somebody’s going through garbage and there’s nothing we can really do. This gives us more tools.”

  • Approved a 25-foot public access and utility easement for a newly constructed storm pipe at the corner of Gilbert Street and River Road.
  • Approved liquor license applications for J&C BBQ and Catering at 940 S. Main St., Suite A (full-on premises sales) ; 7th Street Mart #1 at 590 Tangent St.(change of ownership); and Lebanon Elks Lodge, 41 W. Maple St. (full-on premises sales).

Michael Smith of the Elks told the council that the lodge has relocated to that address after selling its previous building to Lebanon Calvary Chapel church. He said the organization hopes to eventually purchase property and build a brand new lodge building with an adjacent RV park, something he said has worked well for other lodges.

  • Heard a summary of a Jail Risk Management Assessment Report prepared by CityCounty Insurance Services which evaluated practices at Lebanon Police Department’s Municipal Jail.

David Nelson of CIS told councilors that of the $12 million jail-claim costs the company has paid over the past six years, $11.1 million – 93 percent – were related to inadequate medical care, which has prompted the company to add a law enforcement risk management consultant to evaluate facility safety, security, personnel supervision and management, equipment, the workplace environment and other facets of jail operations.

CIS Law Enforcement Risk Management Consultant Kirk Sanfilippo said the CIS team has conducted 23 such assessments since May 31, 2017 and he said Lebanon’s jail appears to be in good shape, though “there are some overall contemporary standards that should be adopted and are recommended.”

But he said, “generally, in comparison to other facilities we have visited, we found this jail/correctional facility to be in outstanding condition, very clean, free of clutter, and the inmate behavior seems to be good. Employees seem satisfied and are very professional.”

One recommendation in the five-page assessment, he noted, was to have a registered nurse on site at least four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and have an arrangement that could put a medical professional on-site within 20 minutes at any time.

Sanfilippo acknowledged that it is difficult to hire jail nurses, since hospitals tend to pay more. He said most jail nurses tend to have had the job for a long time and like the culture and the environment.

Police Chief Frank Stevenson said Lebanon has two nurses on contract, overseen by a doctor.

Bolen asked if “community paramedicine” would fill the need.

Sanfilippo replied that the risk of lawsuits is such that CIS has “set the bar at a minimum of an RN.”

“Serious injuries and deaths in jails are very expensive,” he said.

  • Received a report on tourism in 2018 from Chamber of Commerce, which is paid $35,000 per year from transient room/tourism taxes to staff the Visitor’s Information Center and another $50,000 annually to disburse money for grants, marketing and infrastructure related to the promotion of tourism in Lebanon, and another.

Executive Director Shelly Garrett told the council that those funds are allocated by an eight-member Tourism Committee for grants, marketing or infrastructure related to promotion of tourism in the community.

They were divided among various festivals and special events, sports events and special projects such as decorations used for the city’s Christmas celebration.