Correction: The city attorney is Heather Kintzley.

Delinquent Utility Bills

Administrative Services Director Cathleen Koch reported to the Richland City Council Tuesday that the city had finished 2020 with expenses under budget. However, it wasn’t all good news.

Despite receiving $500,000 in Covid relief to help customers with utility bills, about 4000 have unpaid bills and a little more than $2 million is owed. That’s 10 times the $200,000 that was delinquent in 2019.

Koch said that the amount seems to have stabilized and the $2 million was not growing;

Councilman Terry Christiansen asked Finance Director Brandon Allen, “How does the city plan to handle the shortage.”

Allen replied that without the ability to shut off the utilities because of Covid restrictions, it was difficult to know who might be taking advantage of the situation. He added that shutoff wasn’t an option until at least July or August. He explained that the department was notifying people by mail and also making phone calls to explain to them their options .

Residents who are still struggling are directed to the county’s relief program.

Washington vs. Blake

Richland City Council continues to struggle with the Washington Supreme Court decision, Washington vs. Blake. The court’s decision that a person couldn’t be charged with possession of an illegal drug that they had unknowingly effectively gutted the state’s drug laws.

The Washington State Legislature’s fix, SB 5476, that recently passed, re-criminalizes the possession of illegal drugs as a gross misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill requires that police divert people to treatment for their first two arrests. Only on their third or later arrests for possession can they actually be referred to the prosecutor for charges.

City Attorney Heather Kintzley pointed out that even State Representative Brad Klippert voted yes on SB 5476. She said that Klippert explained, “It is better than the supreme court gave us.”

According to Kintzley, the city never had an ordinance criminalizing drug use because the crime was a felony and the city had no jurisdiction over felony crime. For that reason, she said, the city had two options – do nothing and leave enforcement to the county or write a local ordinance that adopts the state’s new law. She pointed out that the new law expires July 1, 2023.

Councilmembers decided to wait and see what other local jurisdictions do before picking an option.

With that decision Mayor Ryan Lukson said, “We probably ended this discussion 30 minutes earlier because Bob [Councilmember Bob Thompson] is in Seattle.”

Changes to zoning

Councilmembers reviewed five proposed changes to zoning. Two of them would change commercial zoning to residential zoning.

Councilmembers expressed the most concern with changing the zoning from commercial to residential at the intersection of Meadow Drive South and Center Parkway. That change would mean that there was no commercial development at the busy intersection.

Meadow Drive South and Center Parkway could rezoned from commercial to medium density residential.

Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the changes listed before there is a final decision.

Automated External Defibrillators

Richland Fire Chief Thomas Huntington and Captain Michael Van Beek described to councilmembers how the department continues to improve its cardiac survival program.

Soon the fire department will be able to provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to some new construction, some large gatherings and city properties like parks. Van Beek assured the council that the AEDs themselves would instruct users on how to use the device.

A program that alerts off-duty firefighters with AEDs to a cardiac emergency near them is also being developed. Van Beek showed a table (below) that gives the statistics on how likely a heart attack victim will survive an attack at home and in a public location.

In conclusion, if you have a heart attack, try to have it at a restaurant and not your own home.

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