Backhoe

Baker City voters made the usual choices in Tuesday’s election — choosing candidates, mulling tax levies, selling a backhoe.

That last, perhaps not so usual, item made it to the ballot due to a clause in the city’s 68-year-old charter.

That clause requires city officials to get the approval of voters before selling either land or buildings worth at least $5,000, or other property, including vehicles and equipment, worth at least $10,000.

Over the past three decades the city has asked voters for approval to sell more than half a dozen buildings or land parcels. Voters authorized each sale, usually by large margins.

But until Tuesday the city had not gone to voters when the item on the block was a vehicle, said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director.

She acknowledged that in at least one case, involving a street sweeper, the city probably should have asked voters for permission because the value could have approached the $10,000 threshold.

Owen didn’t have a record immediately available listing the amount the city received for the sweeper.

But when city officials decided they no longer needed a 1995 Case backhoe with an estimated value of $16,000, Owen said it was clear the city would need to take the matter to voters, per the city charter clause.

Voters approved a measure authorizing the backhoe sale by a margin of 92% to 8% in Tuesday’s election.

The city will sell the backhoe through an online government auction, and as with any auction it’s difficult to predict whether any particular item might spawn a bidding war, Owen said.

The backhoe issue also prompted city officials earlier this year to look at its equipment fleet to identify other vehicles that are surplus, or soon will be, and that might conceivably fetch $10,000.

They found two candidates, Owen said — a Case excavator and a 1988 International dump truck.

To avoid the possibility of having to put those pieces on a future ballot, the Baker City Council included a separate measure on Tuesday’s ballot asking voters to amend the city charter clause.

The proposal was to allow the City Council to sell surplus vehicles, regardless of value, so long as the money went to the city’s equipment replacement fund. The measure didn’t affect the requirement that voters approve the sale of land or buildings.

Voters approved the charter-changing measure Tuesday with 75.5% in favor.

That outcome wasn’t necessarily preordained, though.

At least twice in the past, in 2000 and 2002, the city asked voters to eliminate that entire clause from the city charter, which would have allowed the city to sell any surplus property, whether real estate or equipment, without getting the voters’ approval.

Voters rejected that measure by 59% to 41% in 2002, and by 60% to 40% in 2000.

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