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Wasting time, gas

The Oregon School Activities Association won’t be getting Christmas cards from any environmental groups this year.

It shouldn’t, anyway.

On Saturday morning, on the artificial turf at Hillsboro Stadium, two teams will play for the state’s Class 1A football championship.

Those two teams — the Joseph Eagles and the Imbler Panthers — will have traveled a total of 640 miles to get to the field.

Round trip, that’s 1,280 miles.

And school buses, as you probably know, don’t exactly play in the same league, mileage-wise, as a Prius.

We concur, councilor

Baker City Councilor Dennis Dorrah said something that needed to be said.

Well, actually Dorrah wrote rather than said what he was thinking, since he couldn’t attend last week’s budget board meeting.

But the point of Dorrah’s words, whether printed on paper or spoken, comes to the same.

That point is that Baker City officials should treat every dollar as precious.

Dorrah, in the letter he submitted to the 14-member budget board, which includes the seven city councilors and seven members appointed by the City Council, contends that city spending during the rest of the fiscal year should “be held to an absolute minimum.”

Dorrah also suggests the city cut at least 5 percent from the budget for fiscal 2009-10, which starts July 1.

Looking up downtown

Despite its passel of awards and national recognition, Baker City’s historic downtown district is missing something significant.

But perhaps not for much longer.

The glaring gap in the development of downtown is upstairs.

There’s a lot of space on the upper floors of buildings, but a relative pittance of that space is being used for residential or business purposes.

That’s a pity.

Curing glitches in state’s biofuel law

Oregon’s House Bill 2210 might have seemed sensible to legislators who represent temperate, and relatively small, westside districts.

But in the vast, often frigid lands east of the Cascades, the 2007 law, which mandates the blending of biofuels with regular gasoline and diesel, brings consequences that detract from the legislation’s laudable goals of reducing pollution and creating a market for various crops and logging debris.

Fortunately the Legislature, which convenes in January, can fix the worst of the law’s problems by way of a couple of modest tweaks.

First, the ethanol.

The law requires that gasoline sold in Oregon contain 10 percent of the plant-based fuel, which can be produced from crops as well as from logging slash.

Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and produces fewer pollutants.

Don’t conceal gun permits from public

Oregon’s excellent public records law allows us to find out, among many other matters, when our neighbors get a marriage license, or register to vote, or apply for a permit to build a fence.

But now many of Oregon’s 36 county sheriffs — including Baker County’s Mitch Southwick — argue that we’re not necessarily entitled to know which of our neighbors have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

It seems to us that on the roster of government records that citizens ought to have access to, concealed weapons permits rank quite a lot higher than, say, marriage licenses.

Think of it this way: If the government issues a marriage license to a couple who aren’t ready to be married, no one besides the unfortunate pair is likely to be harmed.

Don’t rush zoning law

Forgive us a brief excursion into exaggeration, but compared to Baker County’s draft zoning ordinance, “War and Peace” is a pamphlet.

Which is to say the ordinance — all 45 chapters — is long and complicated.

County officials have been putting the thing together for five years, after all.

They shouldn’t be in a rush now to make the ordinance official.

We don’t fault the county’s efforts thus far to explain to residents and property owners what’s going on.

Road plan a good start

We don’t as a rule subscribe to the notion that a nation or a state can tax itself out of recession and into prosperity.

But we think Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski is onto something with the tax-hike proposal he unveiled last week.

We endorse much of Kulongoski’s plan because he wants to use the extra money for a specific, and necessary, purpose: Replacing dilapidated bridges and repairing rough highways.

And unlike many tax-raising schemes that politicians devise, Kulongoski’s concept would benefit private businesses far more than it would enrich state bureaucracies.

The governor told legislators last week that his plan would put almost $500 million per year into the state’s coffers, and result in about 2,100 new jobs per year over the next five years.

Most of those jobs would be in the construction sector.

The tax and fee increases Kulongoski proposes are modest.

Voters do bridge rural-urban divide . . . . occasionally

“Baker County votes don’t matter — Portland decides every election.”

This lament is one we hear often.

And it’s not without merit.

Consider, for instance, that President-elect Barack Obama received 57 percent of the votes cast in Oregon, and John McCain 41 percent.

Obama did exceptionally well in Multnomah County, Oregon’s most populous, where he got 77 percent of the votes to McCain’s 21 percent.

Yet in Baker County Obama polled just 32 percent to McCain’s 64 percent.

The returns are similarly reversed in the U.S. Senate race.

Baker County’s big bargain

Rarely is a government agency presented with the kind of bargain that Baker County Commissioners gratefully accepted recently.

Commissioners want to build a hydroelectric plant at Mason Dam between Baker City and Sumpter.

They solicited bids from consultants interested in overseeing the county’s application for a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Four consultants submitted bids.

City Council made right call on SDCs

The Baker City Council was wise to delay its discussion about possibly adding system development charges to the list of fees it assesses to people who build new homes or commercial structures.

SDCs are, potentially, a big deal — based on a consultant’s report, the charges could add more than $14,000 to the cost of building a home.

SDCs could be a crucial source of money for the improvements city officials hope to make to the water, sewer and street systems — or, in the case of the sewer system, might be forced to make.

More than half of Oregon’s 240 incorporated cities charge SDCs. Baker City never has done so.

Considering all that’s at stake, then, councilors shouldn’t be in a hurry to make a decision.

So far they haven’t been.

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