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Sheriff Helm refutes claims of unjustified school-zone tickets

DAYTON–Responding to citizen complaints voiced in November, Sheriff Joe Helm addressed the concerns to the Dayton City Council December 13. Also on the agenda was the City’s portion for contract services in 2022; flood zone updates; broadband updates; and approved budget amendments and 2023 budget.

Comments were heard by several Dayton residents at the Council meeting in November about being pulled over and issued a large ticket for speeding in the school zone. A number of citizens complained the zone was not clearly marked and accused the Sheriff’s department of extortion by trying to meet a quota for grant funding. The mayor and Council agreed that there needs to be better signage and education about the speed. Weatherford indicated they are working towards a solution.

Sheriff Helm was present and reported to Council and refuted the claims about extortion and said they are working to be proactive after receiving complaints about the speed of vehicles in the school zone, particularly by hospital workers. It is not because they are trying to meet a quota to be eligible for grant funding, Helm stated. The tickets are issued for the location the infraction occurred for the state regulated fine.

Helm said he conducted a ticket audit and found that most of the tickets were issued during school hours. Those that were not, were ticketed for going more than 10 mph over the speed limit. He recommended they post signs for the times when the 20-mph school zone is active.

Concerned citizen Theresa Eier returned to update about the issue that after researching she saw the money paid for infractions can be used towards making changes and improvements to the school zone.

Councilmember Teeny McMunn had previously requested specific data from the Sheriff’s Department about the costs of transporting inmates. Helm provided approximate numbers for the last two months. For October the transports were a little higher than November of 19. That month, the department spent 67 hours transporting inmates 1400 miles which cost about $400 in fuel and $2400 in wages. The following month transports took about 40 hours costing $1300 in wages and about $230 in fuel to go 840 miles.

McMunn asked if the department has the necessary Narcan kits yet and if they have updated their CPR and First Aid requirements. Helm responded that they are up to date on the latter requirements, but they are still working to get the Narcan.

Mayor Weatherford welcomed new Director of Emergency Management Tina Bobbitt who reported the number of incidents in the City and County for November. The County had 120 calls for dispatch, and the city had 389. For fire calls, there were six in the County and 12 for the city. For EMS there were eight for the County and 33 in the city. She also said they are training a dispatcher who will be starting the following week.

County Commissioner Marty Hall reported in place of Ryan Rundell and provided the portions of the city payment to the County that went to the contracted services for dispatch, law enforcement and municipal services for 2022 as requested by a few council members. District court was apportioned at $103,543, the portion for dispatch was $171,559 and the sheriff’s department was allotted $337,428. Mayor Weatherford asked him about the plans to dissolve the Flood Control Zone District. Hall answered that the district has gone largely unfunded since the levies have failed twice. They also discovered that the district is not covered under the County risk pool insurance and to pay insurance premiums would cost all of the little money the district has. Therefore, the Commission has determined it is not worth insuring something that the community will not support through passing a levy.

Comments were made about the lack of flood hazard mitigation by two property owners along the river–Andrew Dunn and Russ Whipple. Dunn asked pointed questions about repair needs on a flap gate on the river levee near his property and contacted the Corps of Engineers and met with one of their representatives and later with City Councilmember Jim Sueuga. He asked if the city has looked at it and warned them that in its current condition, it will not hold back floodwaters this next season. Weatherford assured him that the city is working to address it.

Whipple expressed concern about not managing the flood mitigation. He said that if they get a two-day moderate rain, they will not be able to work in the river and considers it an emergency. The mayor responded that they cannot act without approval, or they risk being held liable. They are trying to go through the proper channels and be heard by local representatives. He agreed that the situation is critical and an emergency, but that he must weigh out how best to protect the city.

Sueuga answered that he received a response from a representative for Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. He says the pressure needs to continue in a community-wide effort. He said the problems are obvious when there is only 5.5 feet clearance between the gravel and the bridge instead of the required 16 feet. RCW 35.21.090 was referenced by Whipple and Sueuga, which reads, “Any city or town shall have power to provide for the protection of such city or town, or any part thereof, from overflow, and to establish, construct and maintain dikes, levees, embankments, or other structures and works, or to open, deepen, straighten or otherwise enlarge natural watercourses, waterways and other channels, including the acquisition or damaging of lands, rights-of-way, rights and property therefor, within or without the corporate limits of such city or town, and to manage, regulate and control the same.”

A franchise agreement was presented to Council by representatives from Charter Communications to provide services including broadband and cable. There was much discussion questioning the need for the service because of the Port of Columbia’s project to bring in broadband. The project has three internet service providers already committed to leasing the fiber network from the Port. When asked why Charter does not also lease, the reply was that it is their business model to own and manage their own network. Mayor Weatherford clarified that Council cannot deny a franchise agreement but can alter it to fit the needs to of the community.

Later, Port Executive Director Jennie Dickinson suggested they write in the agreement something that protects from how things were handled with TVTV and possibly add a requirement that they use the existing infrastructure. She commented that it would have been a help if Charter showed interest in bringing the service 18 months ago.

A budget amendment was passed for the 2022 budget and following a public hearing the 2023 Budget was approved.

The mayor provided a brief update on the WWTP to say that they are still working out the details of a purchase agreement with the property owners for the project.

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