Council closed out the final Monday night meeting with a full agenda and robust public forum.
We began with a presentation from Chief Heppel addressing the financial challenges facing our Ground Emergency Medical Transport and Ambulance Transport Fund. The Ambulance Transport Fund faces an annual funding gap of $1.2-1.5 million. The fund depends on transport fees, and increasingly the patients using the ambulance service are on Medicare or Medicaid, which reimburse at a lower amount than private insurance. The Ground Emergency Medical Transport funding is tied to state reimbursement which currently covers only 15% of the cost. There are wo immediate pathways to better fund this critical service: first, the City is working with the State to raise our eligibility rate for State reimbursement to bring it closer to 100%. Secondly, more Eugene and Springfield residents should purchase Fire Med insurance, which covers the out of pocket cost for an ambulance trip. FireMed is a critical community-based revenue stream to maintain this life-saving system.
Following this session, Council held both an Executive Session and public work session to review the performance of the City’s Police Auditor, Mark Gissiner. Mark is retiring in February and Council expressed deep appreciation for his professionalism and effectiveness in building a model police oversight program. Council will be tasked in 2021 with determining the process and timeline for hiring a new Police Auditor.
The 7:30 p.m. Council meeting began with ceremonial whimsey as Mike Clark sang a farewell song to Councilor’s Betty Taylor and Chris Pryor, who are retiring this year. This light and cheerful moment was followed by a full evening of testimony in the public forum. Most who testified were concerned about the negotiations with NW Natural and called for a ban on the construction of a new fossil fuel infrastructure. Council will receive an update on these negotiations in January. There are other related actions including an electrification analysis by EWEB that will influence how the City navigates our priority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cost effectively and with the least disruption.
Others condemned the City’s removal of a campsite at 1st. and Jefferson two weeks ago. This action has shined a harsh light on the challenge of addressing an increasing number of unhoused people that was already overwhelming our community and has been deepened and worsened by the pandemic. All the City departments involved in that camp removal are reviewing their actions, protocols and communications to work toward a more humane, sensible and fair response to the needs and suffering of people with no place to go while also addressing the impacts of campsites on neighborhoods.
Lastly, we heard from people about the police shooting two weeks ago. The District Attorney has since released two videos of the incident which at least give everyone an opportunity to be clearer about what transpired.
Our last meeting before the holidays was on Wednesday, Council heard a three-part report on the economy, our response to the pandemic, and specifics about our investment in construction projects. For those of you with time and interest, this is a good session to watch. My quick take a way: the recession is most deeply reflected in three areas: restaurants, hotels, and arts and cultural events. The local construction industry has had the least impact and grew modestly in 2020. The reason is that the City’s building and permitting system had already converted to online forms and staff within days of the shut down in March were able to fully function remotely. As you’ve seen, big projects have continued: Hayward Field, Knight Campus, 5th Street expansion, as well as numerous affordable housing projects.
The City made significant investments to support our economy and community throughout the crisis in three broad categories: 1) focusing federal coronavirus relief funds on the most affected sectors – the Streatery program for restaurants, grants to cover utility costs for essential service workers, and loan programs for local businesses. 2) coordinating with partners to get low cost loans and grants to businesses, most recently through a loan program for businesses with fewer than 25 employees, prioritizing BIPOC owned businesses in retail, hospitality and arts and culture. And 3) working to ensure that state resources were directed to local businesses such as the delivery 25,000 KN95 masks.
As we turn to the holidays and the new year, thank you all for your work to build a strong, compassionate, and energetic community through this long, hard year. I’m pasting below a photo of the new pallet shelters for homeless families at First Baptist Church purchased with coronavirus relief funds. A better future awaits those families. Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year.