We don't object to Baker City charging a reasonable fee to people who want to burn yard debris, as officials have proposed doing.
But $25 for an annual permit isn't reasonable by the standards of the city's own fee schedule.
The annual cost for a dog license, for instance, is less than half as much - $10.50 for dogs that aren't spayed or neutered, and $8 for ones that are.
Yet city employees spend considerably more time dealing with dog-related issues than with complaints regarding backyard burning.
In 2010 the police department dealt with 410 situations involving a
"dog at large" or a "dog nuisance," according to the department's
The total for 2009 was 557 incidents.
Fire Chief Jim Price told the City Council recently that he estimates
there are about 40 complaints related to open burning per year.
But then, recouping the city's enforcement costs isn't the only reason behind the proposed fee.
City Manager Mike Kee told councilors that imposing the fee might discourage some residents from burning.
In the same vein, the proposed ordinance - councilors have passed only
one of the three readings needed for it to take effect - also would
allow permitholders to burn only between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.
There are no time restrictions in the current open burning ordinance.
Ultimately, we don't believe there's any legitimate reason for the city to try to deter open burning.
It's not a significant source of air pollution.
According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Baker
City's air has been in the "good" category (the best) on about 95
percent of days over the past seven years.
The air quality was in the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" category
(there are three worse stages) on just five days during that span.
Some irresponsible residents do, it's true, burn household garbage and
other materials. But the current ordinance already prohibits that. And
we see no reason to believe that charging a fee for burn permits will
dissuade those scofflaws.
As for the proposal to limit burning to a 9-hour period, that idea too is fraught with problems.
For one thing, a lot of people work during those hours. They wouldn't
be able to light a fire and still comply with the requirement - which
is reasonable - that a person 16 or older monitor the fire with a
charged garden hose at hand.
For another, the ordinance as written seems to include the patio
fire-pits that have become popular over the past few years. Yet few
people are likely to use those between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a hot July
or August day.
We're perplexed as to why the proposed ordinance would allow residents
to burn only paper in burn barrels. The current ordinance has no such
restriction - people can put any allowed material, including untreated
wood, in a burn barrel.
As Councilor Beverly Calder, who favors the new ordinance, noted, the best thing to do with paper is recycle it.
We would support an ordinance that sets a modest charge, comparable to
dog license fees, for open burning and burn barrel permits.
And we're fully in favor of the city enforcing the needed guidelines about what materials people can burn.
But the current proposal would punish a lot of other people, ones who follow the rules.