City will reinstate KRP caretaker position

After attempting to do away with a caretaker position at Keizer Rapids Park (KRP) last year, the Keizer City Council reversed course at its meeting Monday, May 20, and there might even be a limited expansion of it in the future. 

During the meeting, members of the West Keizer Neighborhood Association (WKNA) spoke in favor of idea again as did former city councilor Richard Walsh who has championed reinstatement of the caretaker role for the past three months. 

The city was planning to turn a home in the park designated for a caretaker into a private rental property, but pulled the brakes on that idea when the laws governing rental property changed as the result of actions in the Oregon Legislature. This week, city staff brought back a list of options for resurrecting the caretaker role in some fashion. 

Councilors voted unanimously in favor of reinstating the program, but also investigating supplemental efforts as time allows. 

Mayor Cathy Clark said the most important issue for her was getting someone in the house as soon as possible. 

“We have to make sure we are good stewards of the property and I’m concerned about it being vacant,” Clark said. 

“I would say move forward with the park caretaker and put them in the house and possibly continue to develop the RV pad for a supplemental host,” said City Manager Chris Eppley. 

Still to be determined is what role a caretaker or park host would serve. The previous caretaker initially provided maintenance in addition to enforcing park rules and generally keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. Before the agreement was altered, he also patrolled the forested area of the park every evening. 

Those safety and security services are the types members of WKNA want to see restored, but achieving that level of diligence could be a tall order depending on who applies to the job. Keizer Police Chief John Teague said calls to the park are “recurring, but not regular.” He indicated that the park has not been an undue burden, but that having eyes in the park on a regular basis alleviates some of the potential issues. 

“So crime isn’t the issue, it’s more security. Having someone who knows when to call when necessary,” said City Councilor Laura Reid. 

Since the park host role was ended, the city has added its first restroom with flushing toilets at KRP. Its supplies tend to be exhausted during weekend hours with high volume, and parks employees often don’t work during those hours. A caretaker could be beneficial in terms of keeping up with those demands. 

Another option floated was establishing a park ranger position. That would be a heavier lift with additional costs, but Councilor Dan Kohler didn’t want it dismissed out-of-pocket. 

“If it is beneficial, it is worth all the difficulty of putting it together because it works. Just because one [option] is more difficult or complex, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle it,” Kohler said. 

Keizer Public Works Director Bill Lawyer said there needed to be a list of duties in place that covered the spectrum of seasonal needs when it comes to caring for the park and to get the city’s money worth if it decides to forgive $1,500 a month in rent in return for services within the park. 

“I think we need to outline the expectations and get our money’s worth. Is it garbage, mowing, cleaning the bathrooms or all of the above? I think we need to look at an annual program and look at what can be accomplished throughout the year,” Lawyer said. 

City staff will return to the council with a more detailed list of potential duties in the near future. In addition to a caretaker position housed in the park, staff are also going to investigate what it would take to add a seasonal park host like those found in Oregon state parks. 

“[Oregon state parks] have plenty of infrastructure in place for determining beneficial relationships. If you can make it almost identical, you will have the services the city wants and a volunteer pool to draw from,” Walsh said.