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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials

Raises OK, but drop the charts


Baker City Manager Mike Kee’s proposal to give the city’s 16 non-union employees a 1.5 percent pay raise, retroactive to Jan. 1, is reasonable.

That’s comparable to the contracts the City Council approved last year with the city’s three unions. Those deals include annual raises of either 1 percent or 1.5 percent.

Moreover, the non-union staff, which includes department heads, three public works supervisors and three assistant fire chiefs, hasn’t had an across-the-board pay hike since 2011.

The non-union raises would cost the city about $19,000, a modest amount as part of the city’s overall budget, and one that would not require the city to reduce any services.

We were not, however, persuaded that pay raises are needed based on the comparison chart that Kee gave to councilors to bolster his argument.


Paying for a cat fix


We agree with Suzanne Fouty that there are too many feral or otherwise unwanted cats in Baker City.

We also agree with Fouty, who coordinates the Mollie Atwater and Friends Spay/Neuter Program, that an infusion of cash to deal with the problem would improve our quality of life.

But we think there might be a way to achieve that goal without requiring residents to help pay for a project some of them might oppose.


More time for public to chime in


The local group Forest Access for All, which opposes further restrictions on motor vehicle travel on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, contends the Forest Service isn’t giving residents enough time to review a lengthy new document the agency is releasing later this week.

We agree.

The records that constitute the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision exceed 1,000 pages.

This is an important document, albeit one that doesn’t propose to close any roads.


In the dark on wolves


So far as is known, Oregon’s newest wolf pack hasn’t attacked any livestock.

But this pack, which apparently consists of five wolves, is in one respect the most worrisome group of wolves in the state.

The reason is that nobody knows where they are.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) hopes to ease that concern, as soon as possible, by netting at least one of the wolves and fitting it with a GPS collar that emits a signal  by which agency officials can track the wolf’s movements and, by extension, the pack’s.

That knowledge is vital in helping ODFW alert livestock owners when wolves are nearby.

We were reminded of this just this week, when an adult male wolf from the Snake River pack wandered west into northern Baker County.

It’s not clear what that lone wolf is up to. But fortunately ODFW knows where he is, because biologists put a GPS collar on the wolf in March 2013. And the Snake River pack, unlike the new, unnamed pack, is a confirmed livestock killer, having killed one cow and injured two others in Wallowa County last fall.

The sooner ODFW can keep tabs on the newest wolf pack, the better.


Resort St. problems persist


We argued in 2012 that burying utility lines on Resort Street, though an attractive project, cost too many city dollars even when property owners along the street were going to contribute about $295,000 of what was then expected to be about a $1.1 million project.

Now some of those property owners contend they should pay less, or even nothing.

This would transform the Resort Street project from a mistake into a boondoggle that residents will be paying for in dollars, and possibly in extra potholes, for many years.

Every dollar trimmed from the property owners’ tab must be made up from city coffers. And we believe the city has already spent enough public dollars on this project.


It’s hoops week in Baker


You can gauge the proximity of spring by watching crocus blossoms advance and snow patches recede.

In Baker City we supplement those seasonal signs with the arrival of school buses at Baker High School, the squeak of sneakers on hardwood and the shrieks of basketball fans.

Early March brings the Class 1A state girls and boys basketball tournament to town.


Modulars the best move for kindergarten

We agree with the school board’s decision Tuesday to buy as many as four used modular buildings and install them at Brooklyn as kindergarten classrooms and a cafeteria and music room.

This isn’t the ideal solution, but we believe it is the best option.

Certainly it is the option that requires the least amount of student shuffling. Only the kindergarten classes will move — the rest of the grade levels will remain where they are.

Nor will the cost of the modulars force the school district to cut employees or programs. District officials also are confident they could sell the modulars if they become superfluous in the future.

Critics say the district instead should create space for kindergartners inside Brooklyn by moving third-graders from that school to South Baker Elementary.

But that would require that sixth-graders, who now attend South Baker, move to either Baker Middle School or to the former North Baker Elementary.

Opponents of the modulars have cited the North Baker option in particular, pointing out that there are vacant classrooms in that building.


Cover Oregon questions


We don’t mean to damn with faint praise by saying that Congressman Greg Walden’s call for a federal investigation in the Cover Oregon fiasco is an obvious political ploy.

Sometimes — and this is such a case — the obvious political ploy also happens to be necessary public policy.

And since the rest of Oregon’s congressional delegation hasn’t seemed eager to try to marshal the considerable resources of the Government Accounting Office (GAO), it was left to Walden, the only Republican among that group, to act.


More millions, for what?


We understand why U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., during his town hall meeting in Baker City last week, touted the $15 million he helped secure for the BLM’s sage grouse management plan.

The BLM’s goal — to avoid having the grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species — is one we share.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does decide next year to list the sage grouse, livestock grazing on public land — a mainstay of Baker County’s economy — could be severely curtailed, with the attendant local effects.

Yet when we pondered Merkley’s words we recognized that there was more to the senator’s statement than typical political posturing. And some of it is not worthy of boasting about.


The hazards of backcountry travel


When it comes to assessing the danger of winter travel in the Wallowa Mountains, we defer to experts such as Dave Clemens.

Clemens, who lives in Richland, has crossed the Wallowas on skis seven times during winter.

He understands avalanches.

Clemens told us this week that when he heard on Feb. 11 that an avalanche had  killed two backcountry skiers near Cornucopia, he was of course saddened.

But unlike most people, Clemens had skied the same terrain.

Clemens emphasized that no matter how much experience and knowledge a backcountry traveler has — and he has prodigious amounts of both — there is an inherent risk in skiing, or snowmobiling, through the Wallowas.

Yet Clemens also noted that knowledge and experience can, to the extent possible, reduce that risk.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help travelers, even those who lack Clemens’ experience, increase their knowledge.

The Wallowa Avalanche Center in Joseph is the most important such source. This nonprofit group doesn’t make avalanche forecasts, but it does issue a weekly bulletin about local conditions, and it offers annual avalanche training.

We encourage all backcountry visitors to avail themselves of these services. Knowledge can not only save your life, but it help avoid the need for rescuers and others risking their own lives on your behalf.


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