By TERRI HARBER
Baker City Councilors were divided on the issue of imposing a monthly street maintenance fee as they discussed the idea Tuesday.
The fee proposed by the Public Works Advisory Committee would be $5 per month for residents and $10 per month for businesses.
The fee would raise an estimated $250,000 per year for maintaining the city's streets, which have been degrading for more than a decade.
Councilor Beverly Calder made a motion "not to do that."
"$5 a month is a lot," Calder said about the proposal.
None of the people she'd heard from about the proposed fee "supported it remotely," Calder said.
Building more streets "is improving neighborhoods. New ones bring up the levels," she said. "We couldn't ask the community (members) on unpaved streets" to pay for street maintenance.
But Councilor Milo Pope said he believes the city needs a new source of money to maintain streets.
"We're going to have to fish or cut bait," Pope said.
"Available funds aren't enough," Pope said. "We need to solve it now, not later."
Pope also estimated that he had as many constituents as Calder and wondered why she'd heard from so many people worried about the possible fee, while he's heard from no one.
Mayor Dennis Dorrah interrupted Pope: "You don't need to put down another councilor."
The Public Works Advisory Committee (PWAC) "recommended we do something," said Councilor Sam Bass, who represents the Council on the PWAC. "The streets will become worse and worse."
"The more you get behind the more it's going to cost.andhellip; It's going downhill," Bass said.
Councilor Aletha Bonebrake said she thinks the process is moving too quickly.
"The goal the council chose was to create a fund dedicated to assist neighborhoods to create new streets," Calder said. "Not maintenance."
"This is the first time you've told me this isn't a goal," said City Manager Mike Kee. "There's no ordinance on the table. This is only to get the conversation started."
Street maintenance is "always repeated as an issue," said Councilor Clair Button. He'd like to see maintenance and paving together under one funding plan.
While it can be difficult simply to talk to people about fees and taxes, the city can't do the work "for free," Button said.
"We need to do something to resolve this," Button said.
"Right now, we're $500,000 short to maintain streets," Kee said. It might "not be good policy to build new roads when we can't maintain the roads we have."
Whatever is planned would require "huge buy-in from the community," Kee said. "Give us a direction."
"I don't want to end the discussion on anything that valuable," Button said.
Calder said she would prefer to see something similar to the city's sidewalk fee. This was approved in 2008 and sets aside 25 percent of the money paid for matching grants awarded to property owners who plan to rebuild sidewalks running along their property, or build sidewalks where there are none.
The sidewalk fee - $1 per month for residents, $2 for businesses - raises about $61,000 per year.
The sidewalk fee "had a lot of outreach" before it was approved by the council, Calder said. The fee will continue through June 30, 2013, and councilors will have to decide whether or not to extend it.
Calder also suggested any street maintenance fee should be decided on by voters.
Dorrah said he would like to see a capital improvement fund established that could financially assist residents who want to build streets or parks.
When the southeast section of the city was targeted for sidewalk improvements in 2009, the cost was $250 per linear foot - and the property owners were responsible for half of the price, Dorrah said.
"Nobody's interested in that price," Dorrah said later. "It's very costly."
Forming a committee and creating the sidewalk program was "very successful," he said.
Dorrah suggested that in this current streets situation that they get a fund created so that they could go to the budget committee "and get this thing started."
Kee told councilors that another way cities sometimes raise money for infrastructure - selling tax bonds - isn't an option for maintaining streets.
Ultimately, Calder's motion was withdrawn.
Councilors will talk about the street fee proposal again while they're working on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Ideas include forming a committee with PWAC representatives.
Pope voted against the new motion directing further discussion during budget hearings. He said in an interview this morning that the whole idea of postponing the matter one more time wasn't appropriate.
"A municipality has to do certain things," Pope said. "We keep piddling around with it. But it's getting worse and the cost is getting higher."
The city's budget hearings begin at 6 p.m. on May 16 and will be held at City Hall, 1655 First St. There will be other meetings with the Budget Committee, if needed on May 17, 21 and 22.
Liquor license fees increase gets axed
Some of the councilors also changed their mind about the proposed liquor license fees ordinance and voted against seeking a second reading Tuesday.
The proposal, ordinance no. 3313, would have allowed the council to raise the fees charged from $10 to $75 for new applications and $50 for change of ownership.
Councilors approved the first reading of the ordinance on April 24.
Maximum prices allowed by the state for local governments to charge are $100 for a new application; $75 for change in ownership, location or privilege; and $35 for renewal or temporary privileges.
"I disagree with this ordinance," said Tyler Brown, owner of the brew pub Barley Brown's.
He said after the meeting that it's a difficulty for businesses to pay another fee for a liquor license. Some owners would wonder why their license was delayed because neither the city nor the state would explain why.
This is because some businesses didn't know that they had to the city for a state application.
"Businesses generate revenue that comes back to the city," Calder said. "We haven't had a problem with this. This isn't Atlantic City. andhellip;This ordinance treats them like criminals out the gate."
She said the problem isn't with the licenses but with "management and patrons."
Calder also said that the city receives revenue from the OLCC - more than $118,000 during the 2010-11 fiscal year.
"This council supports jobs in Baker," she continued. "There's no harm, no danger to citizens. This is about business."
"You could argue that building permits are anti-business." Button said.
All types of businesses are required to pay for city permits and this "requires our staff time and energy," he said. "We charge them for it and not always the full cost. andhellip; We can't always absorb the cost."
The vote was 4-3 opposed to the ordinance with Calder, Dorrah, Bonebrake and Roger Coles voting no.
Last month only Calder and Bonebrake made known their opposition. Coles was absent from that meeting.
In other business Tuesday, the councilors:
andbull; Repealed resolution 3673, approved during the council meeting April 10 to transfer leftover funds from the Leo Adler Memorial Pathway for irrigation and furnace repairs at Quail Ridge Golf Course.
The councilors needed to approve a budget amendment instead. It's resolution 3678.