Oregon Cities

New Baker City Council attempts to split from its tumultuous past

NTUUMBQNEODFKSMYTY
A stone, turn-of-the-century city hall looms under a clear blue sky.

Baker City Hall sits in the historic downtown area of Baker City, Ore. in 2023.

Antonio Sierra / OPB

The members of the Baker City Council are still new, but the problems they’re tasked with solving are still the same.

A previous iteration of the council imploded in September after political acrimony and a wave of resignations left the city’s governing body with no members. The Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed new councilors in October, who faced one of their first challenges when they took action on a contentious public safety fee that helped tear apart the last council.

But new Baker City Mayor Randy Daugherty said he’s confident in the direction of the council.

“We’ll tackle a couple of key things after the first of the year and then I think we’re gonna have some pretty good sailing time,” he said Tuesday. “It’s nice to have everybody kind of on the same page and getting along.”

A retired business owner, Daugherty had already served on the council once before when he decided to apply for appointment. He said one of his motivating factors was restoring the city’s stability following the dysfunction of the last council.

One of the first orders of business for the council was what to do about a public safety fee meant to shore up fire department funding after it dropped local ambulance service. The fee on Baker City utility customers had been implemented by the previous council right before resignations caused it to go dark.

At a November meeting, interim city manager Jon France explained why it was such a sticky issue.

“The consensus is nobody likes it, but we need the revenue,” he told councilors.

Daugherty then joined a narrow majority in voting to suspend the fee. He said the fee didn’t have a law outlining how it was supposed to be applied, especially in special circumstances like mixed, commercial-residential structures that rely on only one utility meter.

Even though the suspension only passed by one vote, Daugherty said it hasn’t permanently divided the council. He added that both dissenting councilors understood the need to write rules for the fee.

“This council is not going to become a house divided like the last ones were,” he said.

Nor is the public safety fee completely dead. Daugherty said the council intends to return to the issue in January with the possibility that the fee could be sent to the ballot for public approval.

Daugherty remains optimistic about the Baker City Council despite some significant challenges in the city. The Baker Police Department recently halted 24-hour patrols because of a staffing shortage, although France said the city should be able to restore those patrols once they fill some empty positions.

France’s long-term future is also up in the air. His contract is set to end Dec. 28, and although he’s a finalist for the permanent city manager position, the council hasn’t decided whether to retain him or hire someone else.

Daugherty said the council is set to talk it over Tuesday night and he expects to make a hire by the end of the year.

0
0

Recent Blogs

Shopping Basket