Of the Baker City Herald

Baker City Police officers may return to City Hall sooner than the city expected.

The police department moved to the Baker County Sheriffs Office on K Street last July after water from a cloudburst funneled through City Halls leaky roof into the police offices.

City police have shared space with sheriffs office employees, rent-free, ever since.

But City Manager Gordon Zimmerman told the City Council Tuesday that Sheriff Troy Hale, who was elected in November and started work in January, has asked the city to pay $1,400 per month, retroactive to Aug. 1.

That would put the citys bill at $12,600 as of May 1.

Zimmerman said the proposed $1,400-per-month rent is based on a rate of $1 for each square foot of the space the city police are using at the sheriffs office.

The questions of whether the city will pay for the space, and if so how much, are still negotiable, Zimmerman told the council.

Hale is out of town until Friday.

Police Chief Jim Tomlinson said the move never was intended to be permanent.

I felt kind of bad when it got into several months and we werent paying our share, he said this morning. The county has been real decent to us.

Councilor Jeff Petry said this morning that he thinks the countys request for rent is unfair.

Petry said he believes city residents pay more in property taxes to the county than they receive in services from county agencies.

I just dont think its right, he said. Id like to see the county just write it off.

In the meantime, the citys effort to repair and remodel the water-damaged police department continues, he said.

During its April 10 meeting, the City Council decided to waive normal bidding rules for the project to speed the remodeling.

At that time Zimmerman planned to use the space to accommodate city workers displaced by water damage from a pipe that broke in the City Hall attic on April 9.

But repairs are proceeding so quickly that that wont be necessary, Zimmerman told the council Tuesday.

He still hopes to have the police department remodeled and ready, this time for police officers, within two months.

Tomlinson said sharing space with the county sheriffs office has greatly improved communication between the two agencies.

Now, officers are in the same building with dispatchers, so problems with reports or other day-to-day business can be handled quickly, he said.

Its been much more efficient, Tomlinson said.

The only disadvantage is that the quarters are crowded, he said.

Tomlinson said he hopes the county and city can permanently consolidate their offices eventually, though in a larger building.

That would allow the agencies to share interview rooms, property storage and an armory for weapons storage and cleaning, he said.