Cheers & Jeers

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

With graduation season upon us, this entire Cheers & Jeers editorial could easily be consumed by the dozens of “cheers” we could direct toward the young people in Camas-Washougal who have been collecting local, state and national honors for their athleticism, academics and volunteerism.

CHEERS: Instead, we will give one collective Cheers to the talented youth in our area who have earned honors at their respective schools, on the national stage and at state athletic meets this month.

We also urge readers to pick up next week’s issue of the Camas-Washougal Post-Record, which will include our annual special section devoted to this year’s high school graduates and feature five valedictorians and one salutatorian from Camas and Washougal high schools.

CHEERS: Our second Cheers goes to city of Camas workers who have tried to make a massive garbage route change — scheduled to take place on Monday, June 3 — as painless as possible for Camas residents.

The garbage/recycling changes will impact about 3,000 Camas customers and could come as a shock for longtime residents who have been putting their garbage out on the same day each week for 20 or 30 years.

City staff have been empathetic to the disruption.

“If you had garbage pick-up for the last 30 years on a Tuesday and now it’s on a Wednesday, it’s a big deal,” Sam Adams, the city of Camas’ utilities manager, told city council members in July 2018, when city leaders learned details of the planned garbage collection redo. “It will be a big change.”

To help make the transition a bit easier, the city sent letters to impacted customers and will make automated phone calls the day before the new pick-up days take effect to remind the roughly 40 percent of garbage/recycling customers who will have a new pick-up day and/or time.

CHEERS: The third Cheers goes to the folks from Acts Church and Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s Brush with Kindness program who have helped low-income Camas-Washougal residents clear costly code violations that could have put them even deeper in debt or resulted in a lien against their property — clearing blackberries and removing junk from backyards.

JEERS: Our lone Jeers this month is for a system that punishes low-income or fixed-income homeowners with monetary fines that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

In most cities, property owners are fined for code infractions like unsafe sidewalks, unlicensed vehicles on property or unsafe fences. There are good reasons for keeping up on code violations, of course, but the fines associated with these infractions can be overwhelming for people with limited funds or resources.

In Camas, the fine for an untended code violation is $300 to $450 depending on whether the infraction is a public health and welfare concern. In Washougal, the fine is $250 and jumps to $500 after 11 business days and $1,000 after 12 business days or beyond.

Replacing a sidewalk or fence comes with significant costs. A sidewalk replacement, for instance, can cost upwards of $600 by the time you’ve factored in removal of the broken concrete and installation of the new sidewalk. A fence, depending on the type of fencing used, can cost even more.

For seniors and disabled folks living on fixed incomes, one code violation could set them back an entire month’s pay or more.

CHEERS: Of course, city leaders aren’t trying to make money off these violations — many of the code infractions are a matter of public safety and health — and both code enforcement officers we spoke to, Tami Strunk with the Camas Police Department, and Sherry Montgomery with Washougal Police Department, said they always try to help people clear their code violation before issuing fines.

In fact, of the 300 complaints the city of Camas received in 2018 regarding possible code violations, Strunk issued zero fines.

“We’d rather have people put the money toward fixing the issue instead of paying the ticket or going to court,” Strunk told the Post-Record.

There is no simple solution for this issue, but Strunk and Montgomery, as well as the police administrators backing them, deserve their own Cheers for recognizing that a system that punishes low-income and fixed-income residents with fines they can’t afford doesn’t create a healthier, safer or better community.