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Lakeside looks ahead after levy failure

LAKESIDE — Citizen input must be foremost as the city looks ahead, now that voters crushed a fee proposal that would have — among other provisions — paid for sheriff's deputy services.

That's the perspective coming from City Administrator Curt Kelling.

"I think the beauty is dialogue," Kelling said. "What do you want this town to be?"

Voters overwhelmingly shot down a measure Nov. 7 that would have assessed property owners $2 per $1,000 for:

  • police patrols;
  • code abatement;
  • storm drain improvements;
  • and associated services.

Councilors take up the matter of what to do now at their Nov. 30 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at city hall.

"I put it on there (on the agenda) before the election," Kelling said. "I just figured win, lose or draw."

The reason for the election proposals is that Lakeside has no tax base. Instead, city coffers come from such sources as RV park money, cigarette and alcohol fees and other sources.

The city administrator spoke more of code enforcement issues, which he typically handles in the community. Kelling noted the number of retirees in Lakeside, adding that volunteers could handle the task of code issues.

"If I do it, it's going to cost money," Kelling said, adding that already the city budget is tight. Plus if a property owner's code issue goes through the court system, that makes the matter even more spendy.

But with volunteers looking through Lakeside for code issues, there would be "no city involvement. No code enforcement. Just neighbors helping neighbors."

In Kelling's opinion, there's also an issue of perception among the public and indeed how much city staff help there really is, given the actual employee size.

"There's three people here," he said. "Sometimes Dennis (Langley) is in here and that's it."

Langley handles public works and maintenance.

Kellig emphasized that the process going forward will have to have even more of the public involved. Otherwise, there'll be a perception among some residents that fee changes are only helping city councilors.

The city administrator looked beyond Lakeside, saying there's a disconnect between government and the citizens it's supposed to represent.

"I think that's one of the things that happens and it's not just here," he said, referring to this as almost some strange sort of "spatial dimension."

"You try to hold your own as best you can," he said. "This city still is really young."

Residents incorporated Lakeside in 1974. Yet with these terms, every fall if they wanted a tax base voters had to vote to have one.

"It was kind of all over (the place) and they'd get mad at the council," Kelling said. "But it was a decision that was made at incorporation."

Oregonians then approved Ballot Measure 5 in 1990 and a subsequent measure in 1996.

"They lost (the tax base) in 1997," he said. "That was because of an election in the fall of '96."

Kelling, who's worked as the community's city administrator since April 2013, has about 20 years of experience as a city manager, primarily in Washington. As he put it, it's "to be determined" on what will be the proposed services in Lakeside.

The city administrator referred to code abatement and police patrols as "livability issues," adding that "generally speaking, police departments don't do a lot of code enforcement."

"Again, I'm hoping they (councilors) let people come in and listen to the voters," he said. "You want to help yourself as a public official. Do not ignore a vote. I think a knee jerk reaction will not be effective."

Yet for Kelling, he's not  too worried about the situation with fees and services, saying "we're in exactly the same place where we started" and that the community isn't necessarily seeing a decrease in livability.

"I think it will start all over again," Kelling said, referring to the upcoming work session and council meeting. Plus there's the tax piece, assuming voters had voted in the $2 levy. "It's good they'll have a little time here. It wasn't going to start until the next tax year anyway."

Had voters approved the $2 per $1,000 measure, the $2 per $1,000, cash wouldn't have started coming in until December 2018.

Other perspectives

Each month publisher Diane Boggs issues the Lakesidetonian, which provides details about the community to residents and others free of charge including city and chamber news.

The October issue included a guest column from City Councilor Shauleen Higgins.

"As the only member to oppose the levy, I'd like to clarify my position on the matter," Higgins wrote in part.

"First, I am not against the tax levy. I'm against wasting taxpayer money," she continued. "Careful consideration should be made for each dollar spent to ensure maximum benefit for all."

In her opinion piece, Councilor Higgins wrote that about $25,661 would pay for storm drain repair and maintenance the first year.

"This is funding that is desperately needed asap," Higgins wrote. "Further neglect will, in the near future, result in flood damage to homes and property within our city. Our storm drains are in crisis and need your help."

Then another $64,152 was proposed for planning, abatement and code enforcement.

"I dislike any title that contains the word 'force,'" she wrote. "It implies a sense of being bullied, usually followed by a defensive response and often a conflict arises. I prefer peace and cooperation. Side note: Everyone please respect your neighbor. Don't harass each other through constant citizen complaint forms."

"Don't be rude, mean, loud or offensive," Higgins wrote. "Kindness, understanding, helpfulness and mutual respect are golden. Good neighbor relations are very important. It will matter later. Anyway improvements to our city are always welcomed and the general fund classification allows us all flexibility on spending priorities each year."

In her column, the councilor wrote that $166,795 was proposed for law enforcement.

"There's that word again," she said, referring to "force' in 'enforcement."

"Here's my concern," Higgins added. "The Coos County Jail has only 49 beds total currently available for the whole county. That's basically the same as having none at all. Here in Lakeside we have a severe thievery crisis. If an officer catches a thief, he can only issue a citation and release the offender because there is no jail space. Spending a large amount of precious tax money to have more police presence will not change this reality."

"As a result, I fear that there will be no improvement to the theft activity occurring at this time and until the jail shortage is resolved, this is not in my opinion the best use of hard earned taxpayer funds," Higgins wrote.

Higgins has served on the council five years.

Although she couldn't be reached by phone she responded via email.

"All elected officials need to remember that they represent all the people in their communities. Not just the ones they see at the restaurants and bars. Not just those that come to the council meetings or are at city hall complaining about their neighbors.....weekly," Higgins wrote. "It's important to seek out everyone's input and involvement in an important matter such as the need for a tax levy and how these funds are to be spent. Tax money is a precious commodity."

 "It's important to seek out everyone's input and involvement in an important matter such as the need for a tax levy and how these funds are to be spent. Tax money is a precious commodity. It represents personal sacrifice from each person who contributes. How these funds are utilized should be carefully considered, not wasted recklessly," Councilor Higgins added.

"The tax levy in Lakeside failed because we did not have enough community involvement in the decision making process. More communication was needed between citizens and government," she stated. "Clear details on exactly what the money was needed for and seperating the ballot into three ballots, one for each catagory, would have empowered each voter to have a voice in the final decision. I feel we would have had, at least, partial success this way."

"In Lakeside, we are facing some complex problems that require complex answers. Just neighbor helping neighbor efforts won't be enough. We need education on crime prevention, individual preparation, private security and investigation, use of technology, economic improvements, mental health and addiction services, and an adequately funded healthy corrections program for those that cannot self-correct," Higgins said. "Yes, that seems like an overwhelming goal but our country tops the list for most people incarcerated per capita. What a terrible trend. The objects in our lives are often disposable, our people shouldn't be."

By comparison, Councilor Mike Smith had this to say.

"I asked for it (a levy) to go to the citizens and to go for a vote," said Smith. "And the reason it got voted down was that it had too many items on it."

He referred to a fee committee meeting, saying that in his opinion, only more law enforcement should have been proposed.

According to Smith, Kelling pushed through not only law enforcement but the other items and that this was the wrong thing to do.

"So I think if it (the levy) had law enforcement or code abatement, it would have had more of a favorable response," Smith added.

He said citizens who spoke with him after the election were frustrated with what they saw were too many items.

Reached by phone, the city administrator took strong issue with Kelling's version of events. First Kelling said City Councilor James Edwards had asked for a group of residents with differing backgrounds to meet and that it wasn't an official committee at all. Kelling added that he himself had originally proposed a $3 fee and then had trimmed that down to $2. He said another proposal was $1.50.

"Mike and I had this conversation the other day," Kelling said.

He emphasized that his role as the city administrator is "to proposed things to the city council" and their role is to make decisions.

"The strange thing is he (Smith) voted for it (the $2 fee)," Kelling said, laughing.

Kelling added that Smith needs to be careful what he says about he says about him, adding that Smith wasn't even present at the group Edwards had asked to form.

Kelling refrerred briefly to voters, saying "I don't know what they're mad about."

"They haven't had to pay taxes in 20 years."

Oregon health agency's money troubles double in new report
Oregon health agency's money troubles double in new report

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Money problems at the Oregon agency that oversees Medicaid could be more than twice as large as already disclosed, a new report reveals.

Due to errors involving abortion, prison, undocumented immigrants and other factors, the state might have overpaid its contractors or owe other entities as much as $78 million, Oregon Health Authority director Patrick Allen disclosed in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown made public Friday. That's on top of $74 million in overpayments The Oregonian/OregonLive reported last month.

The agency may have problems taking in money as well as doling it out. Allen listed $34 million that he said is owed to the agency or went untapped, due to budget and accounting problems. The report was Allen's first biweekly update to Gov. Kate Brown, who directed Allen to submit them in a Nov. 7 letter. Allen's letter was first reported by the East Oregonian on Friday.

The disclosures hint at the red meat the reports could serve up to the campaign to overturn $340 million in health taxes enacted to fund the state's Medicaid program. State auditors are also expected to release their report on the state's Medicaid system in the upcoming weeks. Voters will decide in a Jan. 23 special election whether to keep those taxes, which lawmakers narrowly approved earlier this year.

In his letter to the governor on Friday, Allen laid out problems that ranged from the state paying Medicaid benefits for unauthorized immigrants to incorrectly using federal funds to pay for abortions.

Allen was careful to say that in most cases, staffers are still investigating the problems and the figures and other details will likely change as they learn more. He cited the following problems:

—Medicaid for unauthorized immigrants: Oregon incorrectly paid health care organizations it contracted with to care for an undisclosed number of unauthorized immigrants, who were mistakenly listed in the state's computer system as being eligible for more than emergency room care. Allen did not identify the time frame in which the problem occurred, but it caused $25.7 million in "payment errors and over-claimed federal funds" which the health authority already repaid with state general fund in June.

Health officials are still investigating another potential problem related to immigrants in the country illegally. Medicaid covers some emergency care for unauthorized immigrants plus prenatal and delivery care for pregnant women. As health staffers were preparing to implement a new abortion law earlier this year, they discovered the state might have been keeping these mothers on Medicaid after their babies were born, a time when the women were no longer eligible, Allen wrote. Benefits might have continued if the mother's "provider does not notify us of the delivery date," but the state is still investigating the issue, according to Allen.

—Paying for patients no longer eligible: Allen said that as of July, health agency staffers estimated Oregon might have to repay $17.3 million in federal funds because the state continued paying health organizations to care for people the state had retroactively deemed ineligible for Medicaid. The problem dates back to January 2014. But new leaders at the agency have cast doubt on whether the $17 million is in the ballpark, saying they are still working to identify the scope of the problem.

—Residential mental health facilities: States cannot claim federal Medicaid funds to care for patients at large residential mental health treatment facilities, such as the state hospital. Oregon "overclaimed" $9.7 million in federal money for people in these facilities, which the state already repaid with general fund money this year, according to Allen's letter.

—Bariatric surgery payments: Oregon paid more than it should have for these weight loss surgeries from 2009 through 2015, and started trying to recoup the $1.5 million in overpayments a year ago. "As of October 2017, most of the overpayments have still not been repaid by providers, resulting in an accounts receivable balance of $1.1 million," Allen wrote.

—Medicaid for dead and incarcerated people: "If a client is incarcerated or dies, (per-person)payments should be retroactively adjusted to recoup any payments made after the date of incarceration or death," Allen wrote. "This is not occurring correctly in the system and ... payments have not been fully recouped from the CCOs." The agency currently seeks repayment only for the last year.

—Abortion coverage: The state estimates it used $1.8 million or so in federal funds for abortions, which it will have to repay. Federal law generally bans using federal funds to pay for abortions, although there are exceptions for cases of rape, incest and when the pregnant woman's life is in danger, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

—Money due to drug labelers: Oregon owes an estimated $22.3 million to drug labelers because the state has not passed along some of the money it was supposed to as part of the Medicaid drug rebate program.

Allen also cited problems at his agency and elsewhere with getting money to the right places. They included:

—State accounting problem: The health authority has received an estimated $20 million from the Division of Child Support to pay for children's health care but has not properly accounted for that money. So state and federal programs were billed for the children's health care.

—State budget problem: The health agency could gain $14.1 million for nursing facility and post-acute care that was incorrectly sent to the Department of Human Services over the past year.

The health authority might also be able to get federal money for services it has not sought reimbursement for in the past, or for which it claimed less federal funding than it could have, Allen wrote. Examples include services provided to tribal members at non-tribal facilities, and certain preventive services.

Poll: Many want to avoid political talk this Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON — Pass the turkey, but maybe hold the politics. The already-fraught topic now includes allegations of sexual misconduct against politicians of various political stripes.

From GOP President Donald Trump to Democratic Sen. Al Franken, politicians past, present and aspiring stand accused of sexual misconduct and that could keep tensions high at the holiday table. More than a third of Americans dread the prospect of politics coming up over Thanksgiving, a new poll shows.

Glenn Rogers, a Republican from Los Angeles, says he asks people around the table to talk about things to celebrate from the past year. Not everyone, he knows, will be toasting the Trump presidency.

"For the most part, we get to the point where we know that we're not going to agree with each other and it gets dropped," says the 67-year-old manufacturing consultant, who says he voted less for Trump than against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

With a cascade of sexual misconduct scandals now echoing similar allegations against Trump during the campaign, tempers on the subject of Trump may not have cooled, says Rogers. "When you start talking about it now, there's still some, I think, real animosity when you start talking about character."

Rogers is among more than a third of Americans who say they dread the prospect of politics coming up over Thanksgiving, compared with just two in 10 who say they're eager to talk politics, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Four in 10 don't feel strongly either way.

Democrats are slightly more likely than Republicans to say they're uneasy about political discussions at the table, 39 percent to 33 percent. And women are more likely than men to say they dread the thought of talking politics, 41 percent to 31 percent.

Those who do think there's at least some possibility of politics coming up are somewhat more likely to feel optimistic about it than Americans as a whole. Among this group, 30 percent say they'd be eager to talk politics and 34 percent would dread it.

The debate over whether to talk politics at Thanksgiving is about as American as the traditional feast itself. By Christmas 2016, 39 percent of U.S. adults said their families avoided conversations about politics, according to the Pew Research Center.

But Americans are still trying to figure out how to talk about the subject in the age of Trump and amid the sexual misconduct allegations that have ignited a new debate over standards for conduct between men and women. The conversation, some analysts and respondents say, touches on identity among people who group themselves by other factors, such as family, friendship or geography.

Ten months into Trump's difficult presidency, he remains a historically unpopular president and a deeply polarizing force in the United States. His drives to crack down on immigration in the name of national security and the economy cut right to the question of who is an American. And his defense on Tuesday of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, the former Alabama judge accused by six women of pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, comes amid a wider deluge of sexual misconduct scandals.

For any mention of Moore, who denies the accusations against him, there's Franken of Minnesota, who has apologized or said he feels bad about the allegations against him. For every mention of the "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump could be heard bragging about touching women without their consent, there are allegations that Democratic President Bill Clinton assaulted women. Both men deny the accusations.

Trump won the 2016 election, even though more than a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, and roughly half of all voters said they were bothered by his treatment of women, according to exit polls. Trump called the allegations false and said he would sue the women, but that hasn't happened.

In the past, the Emily Post Institute Inc. received Thanksgiving etiquette questions that were typically about how to handle difficult relatives, says author Daniel Post Senning.

"Now, I am hearing questions like, 'I don't want to go,' or 'I can't imagine sitting at a table with someone who has this perspective and staying through the meal,'" he says. "My impression is that it's still out there. ... The shock of that election is a little further in the rearview mirror, but I think people still have strong feelings about it."