Bill could benefit Baker City, others

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

House Bill 2069 probably won't generate many headlines as the Oregon Legislature goes about its business.

But the legislation could save residents of Baker City, and small towns across the state, some money in the future.

Which is reason enough for us to endorse the bill.

The House of Representatives approved the bill by a 58-0 vote on Feb. 16 (the other two representatives were absent).

We expect the legislation will easily pass the Senate and soon

thereafter be signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber. The governor,

after all, asked that the bill be introduced before the Legislature

convened in January.

The bill would extend the maximum repayment period from 25 years to 30

years for loans made to cities through the Special Public Works Fund.

That fund is designed to help small cities pay for big, expensive projects they could never afford otherwise.

Cities often tap the fund when they improve their water or sewer systems.

Baker City is bracing for a couple of those projects, totaling several million dollars, over the next several years.

The city is preparing to buy equipment to purify its drinking water

with ultraviolet light, a process intended to eliminate

cryptosporidium, a parasite that can make people sick who drink tainted

water.

(The city started testing its water for cryptosporidium last year, but has yet to find it.)

City officials also are planning to build a pipeline that will divert

treated wastewater from the sewer lagoons just north of town to a new

wetland in Baldock Slough, near the airport.

The city pipes wastewater into the Powder River now, but it's unlikely

that method will continue to meet muster with state and federal

environmental agencies.

It's not yet clear whether the city would need to apply for a loan from the Special Public Works Fund for either project.

But if a loan is necessary, having an extra five years to repay would

of course reduce the city's annual payment (although more interest

would accrue).

If the payment is smaller, then in theory the city would not need to

raise water and sewer rates as much to cover the added expense.

The more likely beneficiaries of House Bill 2069, though, are smaller towns such as Halfway, Huntington and Haines.

With populations below 600, those cities can't afford

multimillion-dollar public works without long-term, low-interest loans

and, in some cases, grants.

Such towns tend to have older populations, as well, with many

residents, because they're on fixed incomes, who are especially

sensitive to increases in their utility bills.

House bill 2069 is no panacea for such problems.

But it's a meaningful improvement.

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The Baker City Herald
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