Salem council raises housing fees

SALEM – City council voted 6-1 Tuesday to increase the annual housing occupancy fee from $15 per unit to $30 per unit, passing all three readings at once for an amended version of the ordinance.

The legislation included the emergency clause, meaning the law took effect upon passage instead of having to wait 30 days after approval to become law. Jan. 1 is the effective date for the increase. When the meeting began, plans called for no emergency clause, with Councilman Rick Drummond saying it was his understanding the emergency clause might open it up to a possible referendum.

Law Director Brooke Zellers, though, said that it’s actually the opposite – if done as an emergency, there can be no referendum. If not done as an emergency, that allows 30 days for a referendum to be filed. He said getting the fee in place in time for next year would be a valid reason for passing the ordinance as an emergency.

Zellers said it would be proper to do the ordinance with the emergency clause.

Drummond chairs the Rules & Ordinances Committee which raised the issue of increasing the fee during a meeting last month, with he and Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey voting to send it to council for a first reading. Councilman Clyde Brown, the third committee member, was not present for that committee meeting.

During a public meeting on the ordinance last week, Drummond said he planned to add the emergency clause and amend the ordinance to include increasing the fee for boarding houses from $15 to $30 per year, which is what he did.

The ordinance also increased the penalty for nonpayment of the fee from $30 to $60, the penalty for failing to allow an inspection from $50 to $100 and the penalty for each subsequent violation from $100 to $200.

Landlord Geoff Goll, who questioned the need for the 100 percent fee increase during last week’s meeting, had also inquired whether any council members asked the law director if the ordinance was subject to referendum.

With a referendum, petitioners can challenge action by a council by collecting signatures to have an issue placed on the ballot for a vote of the people.

When the committee had talked about increasing the fee in the fall of 2012, landlords filled council chambers and spoke out against the idea, saying the burden for the whole housing department was being placed on them and their tenants.

Brown was the lone dissenting vote for the fee increase Tuesday, explaining that a good portion of his Second Ward is made up of rental properties. He said he had received phone calls from landlords and tenants against the increase and that was why he voted the way he did.

Jennings Avenue resident Patty Colian spoke against the fee increase, saying it was a tax on the landlords which will then trickle down to the tenants. She didn’t think it was fair to either one.

Drummond said that while it’s an increase of 100 percent, the fee had not changed in 10 years. He admitted it’s possible the fee will be passed on to the tenants, but he said that will be the decision of the landlords, although one landlord at last week’s meeting said he would probably absorb it.

Drummond said the rationale behind the fee increase was to fund the work done by the two part-time housing inspectors, who spend the majority of their time on rental property issues according to a tracking of their work over a nine-month period.

Councilman Dave Nestic questioned if the fee was restricted to the housing department, which Auditor Betty Brothers said it was.

In other business, Brown said he received a complaint about truck traffic traveling through downtown and vehicles having to back up for trucks when they’re making turns. He said it might help if signs were erected to let the truck traffic know about the bypass.

A proposed ordinance regarding the purchase of a fire truck was tabled for now. Mayor John Berlin said it was premature because they were still talking with two other possible vendors besides that company. The three manufacturers of trucks include KME, Pierce and Sutphen. Berlin said it’s going to happen, they just need more time to put it together.