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Day: April 1, 2011

Partiers trash civic center

Tiles featuring handprints of local children were among the damaged items from a party last weekend at the Keizer Civic Center. A painting in the building was also damaged, and carpets were heavily soiled. The bill is estimated at about $2,750. (Submitted)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A party at the Keizer Civic Center got a bit out of hand Saturday night, causing what is estimated to be more than $2,500 in cleaning costs and damage.

The event on Saturday, March 26, kicked off at 4 p.m. and supposed to have about 450 people, ending at 11 p.m. But by the end of the night nearly 1,000 had shown up, said Kevin Watson, assistant to the city manager.

Watson said some walls Р along with an oil painting hanging in the civic center Р were damaged, and the carpet was heavily soiled.
“So it was just a party at first, and then there were lots of children running around unaccounted for, I guess, unsupervised. Our hosts guessed hundreds of children unsupervised,” Watson said.
After repair to the art, walls and carpet cleaning, Watson estimates the preliminary damage cost at about $2,750. The renters paid a $1,000 deposit and provided a credit card as well as insurance for any damage beyond the deposit, he said.

“While I’m very sad it happened, we have adequate controls in place so that we won’t lose a dime,” said Mayor Lore Christopher.

The damaged painting, “Plastic Houses With Trees” by Michal Stawarz, can be repaired by the artist for about $250, Watson said.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to use the (whole) deposit,” Watson said. “We’ve used $50 here and there.”

Alcohol was being served at the event, which was a quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday common in Latin culture. No arrests were made and no citations issued.

However, Watson said in the future hosts of large events may be required to hire security and/or provide a list of attendees.

“We’re still brainstorming what we may have to do, but this is the first time we’ve had a serious issue,” Watson said.

Local business gets bright idea

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

A longtime Keizer business is expanding.

Entering its 20th growing season this year, Keizer Nursery has added all the supplies necessary for hydroponic and soil-based indoor gardening. Perhaps appropriately, they’ve also expanded to have an indoor shopping area that will be open year-round traditionally the nursery has closed in winter and have also added more space for their traditional outdoor offerings.

They’re also expanding their accessories line to include more pots along with tools, lattices and others the idea being making Keizer Nursery a one-stop shop for gardening needs. The owners aim to be the local authority on indoor soil and hydroponic gardening.

The grand opening is April 1-3, and Keizer Nursery is offering special discounts along with free hot dogs and soda. [MAP: 1]

Alongside all manner of flowers, fruit and vegetable producing-plants, shrubs and more, the additional growing supplies include hydroponic systems, grow lamps, nutrients, containers and even bat guano “one of the best fertilizers out there,”  according to Duane Zitek, who is partnering on the venture with nursery owner Cyndi Michael.

“People can grow all year round,” Zitek said, adding hydroponics can create more than one bloom per year.

“Also, they’re cleaner, there’s way less pest problems and it’s more self-sufficient,” he added. “Everything’s on timers so all you have to do is feed it once a week, putting in fertilizer and water.”

Some of the plants Michael has for sale can be found at larger retailers, but she said the difference is knowing exactly where her plants come from. Her mother, Martha Marx, grows about half the stock herself.

Michael said the rough economy has taken a toll on her business she closed her west Salem location last year but thinks more business can be generated from folks looking to grow more of their own food, be it for economic or sustainability reasons.

Or just “they know what’s going in it,” Zitek said.

He said advancing technology in the indoor growing industry over the past two to five years have made growing indoors, particularly the grow lamps, more cost-effective. The lamps now use less power than they used to, he said.

Brands the nursery now carry include BotaniCare, General Hydroponics, Humboldt Nutrients, Foxfarm and Sunleaves. They can order out-of-stock items via catalog.

The business also has a new website. It’s at www.keizernursery.com.

Dog park closing for 2 wks

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The dog park at Keizer Rapids Park will close for two weeks starting at sunset Sunday, April 3 for pest removal.

Valley Green will be removing various rodents such as moles, gophers and voles. While City of Keizer parks staff said the methods would be non-poisonous, they also report they want to make sure dogs and children Р as well as their owners/guardians Р will be safe.

The rodents are “basically digging holes that are unsafe,” said Parks Operations Supervisor Terry Witham. He added recent renovations to the dog park, including adding new grass seeds, could be undone by the rascally rodents.

The park will reopen on April 18 unless parks staff feels it wouldn’t be safe to do so.

Ride now, pay never?

file photo

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Last year, a Keizer Fire District crew, filling in for other agencies, ran on a call to Donald where they found a 47-year-old man who had been  on his kitchen floor for 12 hours in severe back pain.

“Someone found him on the floor. He wasn’t able to call 9-1-1 himself,” said Deputy Chief Randy Jackson, of the Keizer Fire District. “Our guys brace him for precaution and give him our maximum dose of pain medications and transport him to the hospital.”

The man was a client of the Oregon Health Plan and when KFD officials submitted a claim to the insurance provider it came back as denied because the trip to the hospital was deemed not medically necessary.

“[They denied] the claim because he has a history of back pain, and had he gone to his doctor sooner, it wouldn’t have been that bad and he wouldn’t have needed 9-1-1,” Jackson said.

Jackson could easily rattle off a number of similar accounts much closer to home, but the number of denied claims from the Oregon Health Plan has skyrocketed in recent years and is putting a pinch of budgets for both public and private ambulance service providers. At KFD alone, the denials amount to $40,549.75 on 51 claims between January 2008 and October 2009. Those claims were denied, appealed by KFD officials and later upheld by the same Marion Polk Communtiy Health Plan board that originally reviewed the claim.

“The amount of money sitting in the account that’s denied at any one time is equivalent to the cost of one of our medics,” said Shawn Baird, an owner of Woodburn Ambulance Service and president of the Oregon State Ambulance Association.  “It’s putting a crimp on what we can do for the whole community and we have to shift that cost back to privately paying individuals.”

Jackson and Baird wouldn’t be nearly as concerned about the situation if the number of denials experienced by Marion County ambulance service providers was anything close to what other agencies experience throughout the state.

“Typical denials in the rest of the state average between 1-2 percent of total claims,” Baird said. “In Marion County, the denials range between 15 and 30 percent. Only one other county in the state, Douglas County, has a similar rate of denials.”

The crux of the problem, lies in the interpretation of a clause that defines a medically necessary transport. For a claim to be approved, it must be justifiable to a “prudent layperson” with average medical knowledge.

“The problem is that the claims are not being denied based on the information available to medics on the scene, but the outcome at the hospital,” said Division Chief Greg Hadley, ambulance service area coordinator for the Salem Fire Department. “If a patient that presents with two days of nausea, vomiting, general weakness and abdominal pain, our recommendation is transport them to the hospital, we can’t make a diagnosis.”

Hadley’s office handles billing issues for six area ambulance service providers including Keizer Fire District and Marion County Fire District No. 1.

The increase in denials began around early 2008 and several attempts to clarify the prudent layperson language haven’t affected the high percentage of denials.

“It is our effort to provide specific guidance to the health plans on interpreting our rules, which include “prudent layperson” language,” said Jon Pelkey, quality improvement and medical section manager for the division of medical assistance programs (DMAP). DMAP, which is part of the Oregon Department of Human Services and is the parent organization of the Marion Polk Community Health Plan, the source of the denials.

The latest effort, the result of a task force looking into the issue, was aimed at rooting out system abusers Р those that call for non-emergency reasons such as needing a ride to the hospital to get a prescription renewed Р but those types of incidents are infrequent at best, Baird said.

“I asked the task force to look at the number of repeat users in the denied calls. By and large, the vast majority were single event incidents,” he said.

Ambulance providers are happy to be part of the solution, but it needs to be done before they get a called to a scene, Baird said.

“If there is somebody who is overutilizing an ambulance service, it’s in our interest as well as [DMAP’s] to identify those people and come up with an alternate option. We can be part of that solution, but we can’t do that out in the field,” he said.

Each county health plan gets a certain amount each month for every person carrying an OHP plan “to cover the average cost of care for people on the Oregon Health Plan. Some plans have more active efforts to manage emergency services, which can lead to denial of payment to hospital’s emergency rooms or emergency transportation providers. From a health plan and care coordination point of view, one wants to encourage the appropriate level of care so that the emergency room and ambulance rides are for those true emergencies,” Pelkey said.

DMAP plans to reconvene a task force that looked at the problem last year and see what progress has been made in the near future, he added.

In the past week, a number of outstanding claims were paid, said Ben McCready, a management analyst with Salem Fire Department, but after three years of dealing with the issue, local officials are cautiously optimistic. Prior to last week, Jackson, Hadley and Baird all noted an increase in the response time once they file an appeal of a denial.

“We have 30 days to appeal a denial, but they can wait as long as they want to address it,” Hadley said. “We spend countless hours appealing denials. The payments from Oregon Health Plan are already  a decreased reimbursement [compared to what we receive from private payers and insurance companies] and then we spend another 2.5 hours researching and filing an appeal on a single claim and that’s just the first step, more time goes into after that.”

Girls golf claims second in Illahee tourney

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

If their first tournament of the season was any indication, McNary’s girls varsity golf team may have a stellar season ahead.

The Lady Celts placed second in a tournament at Illahee Country Club Monday, March 28, 30 strokes behind South Salem High School.

“We have a lot of younger golfers growing with the team, but they’re all pretty good golfers compared to some of the other teams,” said Kelli Linton, a McNary senior and the only returner with four years in the program.

“The other teams have lost a lot of players to graduation. We have more strong varsity players who have played varsity before,” added junior Taylor Norby.

McNary Head Coach Kim Phillips wasn’t entirely pleased with the 443 the girls shot at Illahee, but she cut them some slack in light of the poor conditions Р the team managed to sneak the tournament in on one of the few relatively dry days of the past few weeks, but ground conditions were less than ideal.

She hopes to see more improvement with the onset of drier weather and by cleaning up the team’s short game.

“You can spray the ball all over the place, but if you can get on the green and two-putt that’s the most important thing,” Phillips said.

Celt Shannon McGregor said the team’s long game will likely be its strength this season.

“We have several girls who can drive well off the tee box,” McGregor said.

McGregor is returning to the team as a senior after a two-year absence, but played in the No. 1 spot during the Illahee tournament. While’s she concentrating on just having as much fun as she can with her teammates, she’s keeping an eye out for Sprague as a dark horse in the Central Valley Conference competition.

“We did all right against them in the first tournament, but we could have done better than our scores showed,” she said.

It was the first varsity tournament for junior Melanie Torres, but aside from bringing down the team’s scores down as season progresses, she hoping everyone can see improvement in their individual games.

“Whatever our personal goals are, those are the things I want to see us strive for,” she said. McNary’s next outing is slated for Monday, April 4, at McNary Golf Club.

Don’t drive drunk or this could happen

This display at River Road and Cherry Avenue is designed to discourage impaired driving by pointing out potential consequences. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The numbers on impaired driving in Oregon are sobering.

Despite 2009 boasting the lowest number of fatalities on the road since the 1940s, some 181 of 377 traffic deaths Р 48 percent Р were related to drugs and alcohol.

It caught the attention of John Rizzo, a retired Oregon State Police officer who now owns a real estate company. So he arranged for the sign Р and wrecked vehicle Р sitting as a reminder at River Road and Cherry Avenue, particularly for young people.

“It’s 2,000 pounds of metal, plastic and gas going down the road,” Rizzo said. “If you’re going down the road at a high rate of speed and have an accident, it’s going to be serious injuries or worse.”

Rizzo retired from OSP in 2001 after 25 years, having worked in Medford, Klamath Falls, Government Camp and finally the Salem area.

“I covered a lot of wrecks and always wanted to do something to prevent it, especially when young people are involved,” Rizzo said. “In the spring, they have parties, graduation, prom, and it seems like there’s a really horrendous wreck every year, either speeding or driving under the influence of something. Maybe one little display will help remind someone not to do that.”

BC Towing donated the car and towed it to Keizer. It will stay on River Road for about 10 days, and then it’s headed to North Salem High School.

Rizzo said that fatal accidents, especially those involving young people, stay with a family forever Р and also affect the officer.

“When it’s serious injury or death, especially young people, it takes a toll,” Rizzo said. “It takes days to get over it. People think police officers are robots, but it hurts. You don’t know what to say when you get home.”

Celts surge to 3-1 preseason record

Celt Travis Marks hurls a pitch during McNary’s game with Milwaukee High School Monday, March 28 (KEIZERTIMES/Eric Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Lessons are typically doled out slowly over the course of a season, but the McNary High School boys varsity baseball team got one earlier this week that their head coach wants them to savor.

Battling against Milwaukee High School, the Celts were down 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning. Shortstop DJ Harryman led off with a base hit, Garren Robinett advanced him on a walk and Spencer Rice stepped up to the plate. Harryman stole third on Rice’s first pitch, Robinett advanced to second on the next and then Rice swung for the bleachers with a three-run homer. The Celts went on to win 7-5.

“It was great,” said Rice. “It got us all moving and it got us stoked to go out there and do that in every inning, every game.”

That was the emotion Larry Keeker, McNary head coach, wants them to hold onto as the season progresses.

“Those type of games are good for us because we’re still really young and we want everyone working as hard as they can in every inning,” he said.

While Rice exited the game’s hero, Keeker was happy with the efforts of pitcher Kyle Knight who got the win for the Celts on the mound pitching the game’s final three innings.

“It was great to see Kyle have one of his better outings of the season and really seem to mature as the game went on,” Keeker said.

McNary was on a three-game winning streak after 7-6 loss to Grant High School in its season opener. The Celts shut out Dallas High School 11-0 in a win that saw the Celts chalk up 15 hits.

“It was a good offensive performance with a lot of guys contributing,” Keeker said. “We pitched well and played pretty good defense.”

McNary then slid past Centennial High School in a 6-4 game that saw them rise from the grave to take the win. Rice had a big hit down the stretch that sealed the deal.

While team members are relieved to have a winning record, they aren’t going to rest on their laurels.

“We’ve been winning, but we can be better,” Harryman said. “At this point, the thing that would help the most is just being able to play on the field.”

Wet weather has confined many practices to McNary’s gym, Keeker lamented.

“Our hitting is probably farther along because we’ve been in the gym so much. The weather has hampered our defense, we weren’t in the right positions in some situations against Milwaukee and we need to work on that.”

Center fielder Justin Gardner was happy with the back-to-back hit production of the line-up, but hopes the teams finds some aggressiveness as they begin to gel.

“Being aggressive early will help us play better against better teams, and we can always work harder,” he said.

Weather permitting, McNary will travel to meet Aloha High School Friday, April 1. Game time is 4:30 p.m.

Police service levels

National economic cycles historically hit Oregon later than most other states but our state’s recovery is usually later as well.

Any news or political junkie has read with alarm over the past year about the pain that other states and municipalities have gone through to pay for services in a climate of declining tax revenues.

It is Oregon government’s turn to operate with less.  The state is facing a $3 billion budget hole; Salem-Keizer Schools could be facing cuts of up to $55 million. At home, Keizer will have more than $100,000 in his coffers due to decreased natural gas and electricity franchise fees.

At two recent town hall meetings policing in Keizer was the topic.  Chief Marc Adams and his team did a great job of explaining what it takes for city our size to provide public safety.  One of Adams’ key points was that Keizer sits next to one of the main drug trafficking routes: Interstate 5.  That brings illegal narcotics through and into our city; where drugs go, crime follows.

The Keizer Police Department currently operates with 37 patrol officers.  Chief Adams says the department needs at least 41.  The town hall meetings were held to get citizens opinions of what level of service they want.

The police department provides excellent customer service, a patrol officer responds to burglar alarms, accidents, and reports of suspicious activity.  With the looming franchise fee shortfall, some of those service calls may be in jeopardy.

Money from the general operating fund that should go to the police department is diverted to pay the city’s obligation to the Willamette Valley Communications Center (WVCC) which operates the local 9-1-1 call center.

Willamette Valley Communications Center reports that up to 60 percent of the calls it takes are from cellphones.  That’s why the city council considered a 9-1-1 cellphone fee earlier this year.  The extra revenue would have offset the chunk of money from the general fund that is paid to WVCC.  The current anti-tax mood quickly brought out opposition from the public and cell providers.

Another idea that was presented by a citizen at the first town hall meeting was a $3 surcharge on city water bills that would pay for the police department.

One of the concerns of the these debates was whether monies gathered from a 9-1-1 fee would actually be dedicated to the police department, as it was being touted.

The council withdrew the 9-1-1 fee idea and suggested that instead it could offer Keizer voters the choice of amending the city charter (our Constitution) to codify the cellphone fee, or at least a vote to amend the charter to assure there were dedicated funds for the police department.

Before any election is held the city council needs to ascertain if there is a majority opinion by citizens on policing levels.  A majority of residents have rarely needed a police officer and for many their only interaction may have been for a traffic ticket.

City surveys repeatedly show that public safety is a top concern for Keizer residents. That’s understandable, people want to feel safe in their neighborhood.  However, public safety does not come cheap.  Something will have to give eventually—more money for the police department paid for by increased fees or a cut in services.  As Chief Adams pointed out at this week’s town hall meeting, crime tends to increase as the economy falters which means more property crime and more domestic violence.

The people will have to decide what they mean by public safety.  And then the city council can move forward with plans to assure that level is funded.

—LAZ

Government showdown? So what?

By LAWRENCE KUDLOW

According to news reports, Team Obama and House Republicans are at least $50 billion apart in the budget negotiations for FY2011. I’m willing to bet that Team Obama and Senate Democrats won’t agree to even $20 billion in spending cuts.

And that’s a far cry from the GOP’s annualized $100 billion pledge-to-America mark, and an even farther cry from the hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts that are necessary over the next five to 10 years. As I recall, the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission suggested more than $1 trillion in cuts to the domestic discretionary baseline over 10 years. I think the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan would do the same.

Surely the tea party advocates will push the GOP to stay on message and stay the course. That’s what last November’s elections were all about. And if a satisfactory deal cannot be reached, one that keeps the GOP spending-cut pledge and includes a spending-limit rule with real teeth, then why not shut down the government?

Reading through various reports from The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, you get the sense that no great harm will come from a shutdown. Social Security checks will be mailed. Other benefit payments will be met. Air-traffic controllers will do their jobs. Border protection and military operations will continue. Uniformed military personnel will be exempted. The Postal Service will do its business uninterrupted. And incoming revenues can be designated for interest payment on the debt.

Doesn’t sound that bad to me. It sure isn’t the end of the world.

Back in the early ‘80s, when I served in the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, we went through several brief government shutdowns. Yes, the Washington Monument and a bunch of public parks closed. So what? Non-essential personnel got a holiday. The rest of us had to work.

But non-essential programs were not funded during the shutdown, and their unused budgets were subsequently rescinded. Savings were significant.

Of course, in the event of a shutdown, the political blame-game will run full hog, like it did during the mid-1990s. But the public mood today is far more hostile to big-government overspending, borrowing and taxing than it was in 1995. Most important, taxpayers will benefit from a shutdown. That’s the key point. And voters will reward leadership.

So this is a moment when GOP promises to slash spending must be kept.

But let me reiterate: Any budget deal should include some clear rules on budget-spending limitation. Several Republican senators, including Bob Corker and Mike Lee, want to limit federal spending as a share of the economy to around 20 percent. Today, it stands at 25 percent. If a proper spending-limit rule were put in place, strict budget-cutting penalties would be automatically triggered when the rule is broken.

This kind of budget rule is essential to any deal. The GOP should not settle for anything less. Why? Because this is the moment. This is the upshot of last fall’s elections.

Governors like John Kasich in Ohio, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, Mitch Daniels in Indiana and Chris Christie in New Jersey are making the good taxpayer fight to curb spending with strict limits on government unions — even if government shutdowns are part of the battle.

The message from the states is clear: Lower spending is necessary a) to stop the bankruptcy and b) to return taxpayer money to citizens, small businesses and families. Each spending-cut dollar in effect translates to an equivalent tax-cut dollar. That’s pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-lower-unemployment and pro-financial-prudence.

But Washington Republicans must join the state-by-state battle by waging their own war against bankruptcy, high taxes and overwhelming debt.

Frankly, a government shutdown in Washington is a minuscule price to be paid for the greater good of financial solvency and economic growth. If the Republicans can’t get the right deal for full-fledged spending cuts and a clear budget-limitation rule with severe budget-cutting penalties, they should go ahead and shut down the federal government.

Message to House Republicans: Don’t pull your punches. Hang tough. Stand tall.

Creators Syndicate

City attorney cleared in state election law inquiry

S. Johnson

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

City Attorney Shannon Johnson was cleared this week of accusations he improperly aided opponents of Measure 24-314, the big box restriction proposal that lost at the ballot earlier this month.

Representatives from Keep Keizer Livable, the group backing the measure, filed a complaint earlier this year alleging Johnson violated a state statute prohibiting government employees from campaigning on political matters during work hours.

“I am pleased that the Elections Division reviewed the matter quickly and determined there was no violation,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Specifically, the group alleged Johnson “attempted to dictate” the rules of a public forum on the measure held by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. Kevin Hohnbaum and Jane Mulholland alleged questions had been made available to the opponents in advance, but not members of Keep Keizer Livable.

Carla Corbin, a compliance specialist from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Elections Division, wrote in a letter to Johnson that “we determined you were involved with the forum as a representative for the city. Your activities in this capacity assisted the Chamber without advocating the measure under discussion.”

In Johnson’s response, penned on March 8, he stated he was involved due to the fact the chamber had requested the forum be aired on Keizer-23, the city’s government access channel.

Johnson said comments he made regarding the format “were misinterpreted or misrepresented. I did not dictate, approve or even comment on teh questions used. I did not dictate who coudl be participants.”

The attorney said he got involved in the forum format “due solely to the fact that it was televised on the city’s public channel… There were a few other items (Chamber Executive Director Christine Dieker) asked about that I commented on, but clearly told her it was up to her or the Chamber to decide.”