- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ROBERTS, Idaho (AP) - When you’re mayor of a town with a population of less than 600, you find yourself in unusual situations.

Like flying 500 miles to Lewiston so you can drive a used dump truck back home to be used as the city snowplow. Or helping the city maintenance man install a street sign.

Robert “BJ” Berlin first was elected mayor of Roberts in 2011. The owner of a Cajun and Creole restaurant, BJ’s Bayou, Berlin said he decided to seek office because he felt it was a calling.

“My platform was essentially to be fair with everybody,” he said.

Berlin said he didn’t want outsiders pushing the city around. During his term, the ban on raising chickens in city limits was lifted. That’s the only ordinance the city passed.

Roberts only has three employees: a clerk, librarian and maintenance man.

“We have the same amount of things to do that the bigger cities do,” Gale Scrivner said. “We just don’t have as many people to do it.”

That means staff members where many hats. Scrivner, for example, serves as both city clerk and city treasurer.

Rick Lamb, who does city maintenance, performs a wide variety of work, from installing street signs to fixing water lines and sewer pipes.

“Idaho Falls has all these departments that do that. We have a guy,” Berlin said.

Because Roberts has “a guy” instead of several departments, Berlin winds up doing some of the work himself, such as driving the snowplow.

Cody J. Holm, owner of Cody James equipment, is no fan of government. He said virtually all of his company’s interactions with government have been negative. But he didn’t have any complaints about the city government of Roberts.

“B.J.’s an all-right guy,” James said. “Roberts is a good town.”

James said he recalled working with Berlin to pull out snowed-in cars after a major snow storm.

“He was out there, I was out there, everybody was out there,” he said. “It’s a pretty tight little town.”

And if someone complains about a violation of city ordinance, it often falls to Berlin to work things out.

“It usually presents as a complaint about a dog,” he said. “And you go visit, and you wind up listening to somebody for half an hour. And it turns out it wasn’t really about a dog. They just needed a friendly ear to talk to.”

The city’s general fund hovers around $200,000. Add in all the city’s utilities, and the total annual budget is less than half a million.

That leaves little room for big projects. The road budget in Roberts totals about $20,000, which includes plowing snow in winter and paying the electrical bills to keep the streets lit.

“Roberts used to get enough money to fix our roads through the gas tax,” Berlin said. “Now we haven’t fixed our roads in 12 or 14 years.”

Berlin expects the Legislature’s decision to up the gas tax this year will net the city an extra $5,000 to $6,000 for roads.

“It’s not enough, but it’ll help,” he said.

Berlin says the biggest issue facing the city is apathy.

“When we have our budget hearings, nobody comes. That’s when we decide how much of your money we’re going to take and what we’re going to spend it on,” he said. “Local government is where you have your biggest voice.”

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Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com

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