Who let the dogs out here?

City parks director may have a plan for free plastic bags for pet waste

Kim Gilmer, Lake Oswego's parks director, was so enthusiastic about a money-saving proposal she broke the news to the city council before telling the city manager of her idea.

'I'm letting the dog out of the bag on this one,' said Gilmer, explaining she might have a way for the city to keep supplying bags for pet waste at local parks without having to pay for them. The savings could amount to $40,000 a year, according to past council discussions of the cost of disposal bags.

'We have identified a potential source that will cost us nothing,' Gilmer said during a council meeting Tuesday. 'But it is a sponsorship program. We have never done advertising like this in our parks system.'

However, she added, 'Given the economics of what we're going through right now, it may be an acceptable compromise or tradeoff.'

No company was named, but Gilmer said the vendor would need at least 100 sites in the area, and so she's exploring the idea with parks departments in Tualatin and Sherwood to reach that target.

City leaders are looking at every public service possible to scrape together extra money this year, as the government looks to offset declining state funding of local schools while dealing with budgetary issues of its own.

Gilmer's proposal emerged as the council considered options for funding removal of English ivy at city-owned parks and natural areas.

It's not the only invasive species crowding out native plants, but it's the biggest issue by far, Gilmer said.

And one of the council's 2011 goals is to consider, refine and implement policies, programs and volunteer initiatives supporting environmental stewardship of public and private natural resources.

After some private property owners raised concerns about regulations of environmentally sensitive lands, the council in July 2010 initiated changes to the program, which limits development near waterways and wetlands and tree groves.

In addition to adding some flexibility to the rules, the council wanted to look at taking a watershed-based approach to environmental management, better supporting voluntary stewardship, offering more education and outreach and leading by example by taking better care of natural resources on city-owned land.

Those efforts would all come with new costs to the city ¾ up to almost $192,000, possibly from surface water fee increases.

But the council on Tuesday did not move to add every one of those initiatives to the 2011-12 spending plan, which is now under review by the citizen budget committee.

Instead, the city will delay a planned review of properties mapped as sensitive lands and analysis of those identified as candidates to be added to the program ¾ a precursor to actually mapping them as sensitive lands. The council will also hold off on making related map updates.

At the same time, city leaders plan to fund a few natural resource program improvements, estimated to cost less than $100,000 overall. They include:

n Taking steps to offer a Backyard Habitat Certification Program in partnership with Columbia Land Trust and the Audubon Society of Portland.

n Hiring someone to work on contract to coordinate with the city's two watershed councils and serve as an education coordinator across city departments; if possible, the part-time worker could also help coordinate volunteers for park projects.

n Councilors opposed increasing money for a contracted arborist to work on long-range urban forestry activities, but they did support increasing funding for an arborist to work on two other efforts: addressing problems with regulations of small, isolated tree groves protected for wildlife habitat, and developing materials for exempting certain invasive tree species from the city's tree-cutting rules.

n Rather than encouraging planting of street trees through a partnership with Friends of Trees, the council opted to earmark some neighborhood grant money, already in the budget and eligible for landscaping, for trees.

The council also discussed creation of a subcommittee, essentially a 'third look' working group to follow up on efforts of the city's Second Look Task Force, which spent almost a year reviewing the sensitive lands program and recommending changes.

Councilors Mary Olson and Mike Kehoe have offered to lead that effort, which will look at ways the city might ease the program's regulatory burden on private property owners while still meeting state and regional policies requiring protection of water resources and wildlife habitat.

They hoped to hire a private attorney to advise them in their work.

However, other council members expressed concerns about hiring outside counsel before addressing the scope of what Kehoe and Olson hope to change.

'The approach of hiring outside counsel to repackage it misses the first point of 'what are you repackaging?'' Councilor Bill Tierney said. 'I think that would be a logical first step.'