By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Voters, sharpen your pencils.
You will be asked in the May 21 primary election to do much more than just choose the 10 Baker City Council candidates who will advance to the general election in November.
Rarely, if ever, have city voters been confronted with a ballot as lengthy, or one packed with such a wide variety of issues.
Once youve decided whether the city should log an overcrowded forest it owns at the base of the Elkhorn Mountains, you will have to ponder a proposal to eliminate councilors annual salary of $150.
If you think all the references to councilman in the citys 50-year-old charter should be replaced with the gender-neutral councilor, you can vote to do so.
If you hate the sound of train whistles you can encourage the city to try to silence them.
And finally, voters will even have a say in how often they vote in the future.
The City Council voted Tuesday to submit five separate measures to voters in May.
Mayor Nancy Shark admits the sheer number of issues on the ballot may be a little intimidating.
But she thinks voters will appreciate the chance to decide each issue separately.
If the council combined all the issues into a single measure, Shark said, voters might be forced to endorse changes they dont like just so they can make the changes they do like.
I really feel that its better to do them individually rather than giving voters a big lump of stuff, Shark said.
Following is a brief description of each of the measures the council forwarded to voters:
The 1952 charter set councilors pay at $10 per meeting, to a maximum of $150 per year. The amount hasnt changed since.
This measure would cut that section from the charter.
But it wouldnt necessarily leave council members penniless the city would continue to reimburse councilors for valid expenses, such as traveling to League of Oregon Cities conferences.
On Tuesday Councilor Peter Ellingson made a motion to retain the $150 annual salary. His motion was not seconded.
Instead, the council voted 4-2 to ask voters to eliminate the salary.
Councilors Chuck Phegley and Jeff Petry voted no.
Petry said he thinks councilors should be paid, and that the amount should reflect the effects of inflation since 1952.
I think it can be tough on lower-income people to run for council, he said this week. I think (the $150) is a little unfair.
Petry said he doesnt oppose letting voters decide the matter.
If (eliminating councilors pay) is what the people of Baker want Im willing to go along with it, he said. Put it to a vote, and thats what we did.
This is the measure that could affect the appearance of future ballots.
Now, if the city wants to sell land or a building worth $5,000 or more, or other property (such as a vehicle) worth at least $10,000, it has to wait until the next election and get voters approval.
The city has submitted several such measures to voters over the years, most of them dealing with the sale of land.
City Attorney Tim Collins said that in his 28 years on the job, voters have approved every proposed property sale.
However, in May 2000 they defeated a measure that would have erased from the charter the requirement that voters approve those sales.
This measure will be moot if voters approve the property sale measure.
If they reject that measure, then this one will determine whether the city can proceed with its plans to log one of its forest parcels.
The city owns three such parcels in and near the watershed on the east slopes of the Elkhorns west of town.
A 100-acre plot along Goodrich Creek is overcrowded with ponderosa pines, making the trees vulnerable to harmful insects and disease, said Dick Fleming, the citys public works director.
Thinning the trees would yield timber worth an estimated $40,000.
The city also plans to thin the forests on its 160-acre parcel along Elk Creek, and a 33-acre piece along Salmon Creek, but the trees there are too small to sell to mills, Fleming said.
Collins said the city logged the Elk Creek parcel about 20 years ago. Voters approved that proposal.
New rules coming from the Federal Railroad Administration might convince the Oregon Department of Transportation to designate quiet zones which ban trains from blowing whistles at public railroad crossings for the first time in more than a decade.
However, to get a quiet zone Baker City would have to pay for new, more effective gates at each of the five public crossings in the city.
The estimated cost is $40,000 to $60,000.
This measure asks voters if they think the city should ask ODOT to create a quiet zone here.
Collins said the city would not spend any money for new crossing barriers unless the state agreed to designate a quiet zone.
More than two years ago a citizens committee recommended several changes to the charter, most of them relatively mundane matters of language.
In addition to replacing councilman with councilor, this measure would remove items dealing with matters such as elections, condemnations, audits and personal injury claims.
State laws long ago superseded the charter in those areas, Collins said.