NYSSA – Before the Nyssa City Council met to discuss a proposal to raise the town’s public safety fee, nine people signed up to speak out against the idea.
By the end of the meeting on Tuesday, Aug 8, most of those people switched their views on the issue in a surprising turnaround that resulted from confusion regrading water and sewer fees.
The special hearing in the Nyssa City Council chambers allowed residents to give feedback on the idea to boost the public safety fee to help pay for a new police officer. The council made no decision on a fee hike during the meeting.
The council scheduled a second meeting to hear public opinion, setting it for 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Nyssa High School auditorium.
Nyssa city leaders initially discussed the public safety fee hike last month during a city council session. Suggestions included boosting the fee to between $7 and $10. The current public safety fee is $5, charged to residents and businesses in their monthly city bill.
The 2022-2023 Nyssa city budget lists income from the public safety fee now at $76,000.
Jim Maret, Nyssa city manager, said he recommended to the council a fee boost of $7, which would raise about $90,000, including wages and benefits.
Maret said last week that the Nyssa Police Department needs another fulltime police officer to meet an expanding workload. Now Nyssa has seven fulltime police officers and one reserve officer.
Nyssa Mayor Betty Holcomb said it was clear early on in the meeting there was a “misunderstanding” about the fee.
“I think people need to realize it (the public safety fee) won’t raise the water bill,” said Holcomb.
The public safety fee is listed on every Nyssa resident’s water bill. However, it is not linked to the fee charged for water or sewer, but is a separate rate. Some residents apparently were concerned the city was raising all fees, not just the public safety fee.
Longtime Nyssa resident Joe Rodriguez initially intended to oppose the fee hike. After learning the fee hike was only to raise funds for a new police officer, he changed his mind.
“I am all for it,” he said.
Nyssa resident Cathy Huseman said she supports the fee if it will help the police department.
“Those guys work hard and put themselves in danger,” said Huseman.
Ron Huseman said believes the police should add another officer and get a raise.
“If I call for a policeman I want them there,” he said.
Jackie Goul said she was still on the fence about a public safety fee hike.
“We need to make sure we make good use of it. I want us to be able to know what it is going for. It is a Catch-22 and I don’t know where I am on it,” said Goul.
Later, Holcomb said Goul reached out by phone and said she supported the fee.
Charlie Kitamura asked the council why a public safety fee boost was not brought up when the council waded through its budget process.
“I think there is a budget and you should stick to the budget,” said Kitamura.
After the session, Halcomb said the public input was encouraging but she wants more feedback from the public before any decision is made.
Council president Patricia Esplin agreed with Holcomb.
“I want what the public wants but I’d like to see another meeting,” she said.
Holcomb said Kitamura’s point about the budget was a good one but city officials can’t predict the future when they craft an annual spending plan.
“We didn’t know we’d have a police officer killed,” said Holcomb.
In April, Nyssa police reserve officer Joseph “JJ” Johnson was killed after responding to a call in the north part of town.
Holcomb said she favors boosting the public safety fee to $10.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.