Astoria leaders pause after hearing complaints from funeral homeFees for many permits and services provided by the City of Astoria are going up.

At Tuesday's meeting, the city council approved a resolution for fee increases proposed by several departments, including community development and public works.

The city will now charge for some permits that had been processed free, for example, and other fees will be raised to help cover increases in the costs associated with public notices, postage and materials.

But the council turned down a new fee schedule for Oceanview Cemetery, which is managed by the parks and community services department, after hearing from funeral home owner Renee Caldwell.

Caldwell told the council 15 families chose not to bury relatives at Oceanview last year because of rising costs. Charging an additional $45 an hour for burials that take place any time after noon on weekends is wrong, she said. She also objected to a $150 recording fee for routine paperwork. Instead of constantly raising prices, the city should develop a marketing plan for the cemetery, Caldwell said.

"I think you're going to price yourself right out of working with families," Caldwell said.

Larry Peterson, owner of Hughes-Ransom funeral homes, agreed. He said under the new fees, it will cost well over twice as much for burial at Oceanview as it would at Evergreen Cemetery, which is owned by the city of Seaside.

Department head Kevin Beck defended the fee increases, pointing out that burials on weekends mean overtime for staff. But Mayor Willis Van Dusen said he was "disappointed in the proposal," and felt the additional $45 caused emotional and financial stress to grieving families.

The proposal will be studied further and possibly modified before the council votes on it at a future meeting.

Van Dusen also expressed disappointment in the city's new Ninth Street River Park, which he described as "extremely homely and not up to our standards." He said he has received no compliments on the park, and several negative comments. "Can't we do anything to improve it?" Van Dusen asked.

Community Development Director Todd Scott said landscaping may soften the design when it begins to mature, and suggested putting an art sculpture there. Councilor Blair Henningsgaard said the park, which is in his ward, is an improvement over the way the lot used to look. But Astoria resident Don Webb told the council he wished they had discussed the park more before it was built. "This concrete monument with gravel around it is a waste of taxpayers' money," Webb said.

The council heard a presentation on the first year of a study on the feasibility of forming a three-county North Coast Library District that would include Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties. Consultant Ruth Metz talked about the highlights of the first year of a three-year grant for the study, and plans for the second year.

Under new business, the council set Feb. 1 as a tentative date for a goal-setting session, even though council member Joyce Compere, who was absent, won't return until March. The council emphasized the importance of having all members participate, but agreed that Compere could do so by telephone.

In other action, the council:

• approved an agreement with Cindee Matyas to fill in as municipal judge when the regular judge is absent, for a fee of $80 an hour;

• ratified the decision of the city's recycling committee that Western Oregon Waste should not provide free curbside recycling service to people who are not garbage customers;

• agreed to a request by staff to remove from the agenda contract awards for demolition of the old Safeway building and for Exchange Street sewer replacement.

Update on districtsActing as the Astoria Development Commission, the council heard status reports on its two urban renewal districts.

Revenue from Astor West URD is expected to help finance a conference center and other improvements at the Port of Astoria. But City Manager Dan Bartlett said the value of development there has been much lower than projected. "I think we should take a very conservative approach on the Astor West," Henningsgaard said. The commission directed staff to continue monitoring tax increment receipts and let them know when it appears the projected income could support additional projects or bonding.

For the Astor East URD, the commission will grant a request from the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the Sunset Empire Transportation District for $50,000 to help match a federal grant for improvements to the parking lot on the east side of the museum, including public restrooms. The commission will also look at conducting a redevelopment plan for the URD, which reflects the fact that a hotel/conference center is no longer being considered for that area. And the commission will consider a streetscape improvement plan for Commercial Street, east of 12th Street.

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