By Pat Caldwell
The Baker City Council ratified several ordinances during its Tuesday night session but decided to table a proposal regarding the main source of money for Historic Baker City Inc.
The council finalized new regulations on dangerous dogs, and approved the second of three readings of an ordinance banning smoking in city parks and along the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway.
But it was the proposed renewal of the downtown Economic Improvement District (EID) that sparked the most comments from a large number of people on hand for the meeting.
The first EID was approved in 1993 as a way to raise money for HBC, the nonprofit downtown promotion organization, to hire a full-time director.
The EID collected about $42,000 per year, roughly half from each of two sources:
• A special tax assessment on properties within the district.
Under the most recent five-year EID, approved in December 2008, the assessment was $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for properties within the historic district, and $1.50 per $1,000 for properties inside the EID, but outside the historic district (the EID is slightly larger than the historic district).
The tax assessments are capped at $500 for an individual property, and $800 for an owner who has multiple properties.
• An annual business license fee of $150 for businesses in the historic district, and $125 for businesses in the EID but outside the historic district.
The EID ordinance allows both property owners and business owners to object to the tax assessment or business license fee.
For instance, if more than 33 percent of the business owners object to the license fee, then the City Council can’t impose that fee.
The 33 percent threshold has never been reached in any of the previous five EIDs; the objection rate for the current proposal was slightly less than 18 percent of business owners.
The situation is similar for the property tax assessments.
The threshold to discontinue the EID is the same — 33 percent, although in this case that is not based on the number of property owners, but on the percentage of the total assessed property value in the EID.
(For instance, a person who owns several buildings amounting to 5 percent of the total value would have a proportionately more powerful vote than a person who owns a single building that amounts to 1 percent of the total value.)
And this year, unlike with the five previous EIDs, objections to the property tax assessment exceeded that 33-percent benchmark — 37.22 percent, to be precise.
That means the city can’t continue to collect that tax.
Essentially that leaves the business license fee as the only city-supported revenue source for HBC.
The EID issue Tuesday night narrowed down to what course the city should take regarding the business license revenue, in particular which organization would get the money, which amounts to about $21,000 per year.
Several residents spoke during the public hearing portion of the debate on the EID ordinance, including HBC president Eugene Stackle.
Most agreed that HBC was a good thing for the city.
Enough doubt lingered regarding what path to take on the business license funding issue that the City Council agreed to table the topic — effectively placing the matter in limbo — for the short term.
The council also approved a plan to begin negotiations with JW Fowler Co., for building a permanent ultraviolet light water treatment plant for the city and unanimously voted to authorize the purchase of a new police vehicle.
Heidi Dalton, CEO of the Baker County Family YMCA, gave a short briefing to the council regarding the city-owned Sam-O Swim Center, and Dave Hunsaker brought councilors up to date on the project to build a bandstand pavilion in Geiser-Pollman Park, possibly starting this summer.
Baker Golf Board President Merlin Gath updated the council on a number of projects – including tree trimming and clean-up efforts – and Bill Tiedemann, the city’s new contractor for operating the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course, informed the council about his progress regarding the acquisition of various permits.
The council also approved the city’s annual financial audit and report.