The Newport City Council had a verrrrry long meeting this week. Everything from re-naming an already well known park in town to trying to figure out a fair and just way to raise water, stormwater, sewer and other utility rates. Roads too. Newport’s an old town with tired utilities. But the federal government is making it clear that local cities and counties can knock on the door to Washington DC all they want…but Uncle Sam already gave away the store with one of the biggest tax cuts in history – a lot of it to the already wealthy. The idea is that the wealthy will spend more money and the benefits will “trickle down” and boost the economy. Ain’t happening. Wages are stagnant when they’re not declining in purchasing power.
The Newport City Council understands this and is pushing arithmetic to the limits to figure out a way to raise utility rates more gradually. Rates haven’t risen in two years but they’re likely to rise this year – possibly starting in October. City Manager Spencer Nebel and his staff will be pushing and shoving the numbers to avoid sticker shock. One suggestion is to stretch out the increase over five years so it doesn’t hit lower income households so hard. We’ll know a lot more about the details next month.
The council officially added a name to Don Davis Park. They added his wife’s name, so now it’s called Don and Ann Davis Park. But that’s likely to be the only thing new about the park there across from the Performing Arts Center. As to what improvements the city intends to make to the park is largely up in the air. It’ll all be part of an overall city-wide parks update that will unfold in the months ahead.
Public Works Director Tim Gross reported to the council that the city’s stormwater system still has major problems due to many years of leaks, ground shifting and cross connections. And none of it will be cheap to fix. Many towns along the coast have similar problems – it’s a constantly moving target. Fix one problem and another pops up – largely due to the age of the system. Again, declining support from the federal government aggravates the situation.
There’s apparently been a rising interest in creating a “public comment” wall inside city hall. Kind of a free speech thing. But City Attorney Steve Rich said as simple as it sounds it’s far from simple. Rich said if it’s a free speech “site” anybody can walk in to city hall and put up anything they want on the wall. He said it would be a lot better if the city regulated the wall by limiting information that is approved by the city for such things as special events, meeting announcements, messages to the public and the like. In short, there’s plenty of places around town for freedom of speech but not necessarily inside a confined space like city hall. Councilors will debate the issue at another city council meeting.
One thing they said they want to maintain at city hall is the well-managed art displays provided by the city’s Arts Committee. All art is evaluated and carefully selected by the committee and has been a very popular feature at city hall.
And finally the city council entertained the idea of outlawing citizens feeding local wildlife – especially racoons, deer and birds. Birds not so much as long as the bird seed is of the healthy variety. Local environmental advocate Cyndi Karp said good bird feeders containing healthy food is fine – but not when people throw bread on the ground. “That,” she said, “is not okay.” Feeding wildlife can get very dangerous if raccoons and bears are drawn to food tossed out onto the lawn or back yard. Wildlife needs wild food – not processed human food which is a real health hazard for them. It also draws animals into the urban areas where domestic pets left outside can become a meal themselves. Happens a lot. So the city council said they would look to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for guidance on a new city law that will focus on discouraging anyone mis-feeding wildlife – complete with fines.