Voters in the Baker School District made history in the May 18 special election, approving the district’s first bond measure for school improvements since 1948.
In unofficial results from the Baker County Clerk’s office, the $4 million measure was passing by a margin of 2,509 yes votes to 2,315 no votes.
The district will add the $4 million from the property tax-funded levy to a $4 million state grant and $4 million from the district’s capital budget for a total $12 million project.
The district will replace heating, cooling and ventilation systems in all schools, as well as upgrade security systems in all schools.
The district also will build an approximately 5,000-square-foot cafeteria/kitchen at Baker Middle School, the only school that lacks such a facility.
“We’re obviously thrilled and thankful to everybody that’s been involved, from staff members to the community,” said Chris Hawkins, chairman of the Baker 5J School Board. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s just monumental.”
The levy will raise property taxes within the district, which includes Baker City and much of Baker Valley, by about 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over five years.
The district’s most recent bond measure, a $48 million proposal that would have allowed the district to build a new elementary school, was soundly defeated, with more than twice as many no votes — 4,725 — as yes votes — 2,185.
That measure was on the general election ballot in November 2018. Voter turnout was much higher in that election, with about 8,512 ballots returned (72.4% turnout) compared with 5,927 ballots returned in Tuesday’s special election (47.2% turnout).
Hawkins said he was optimistic that voters would recognize how school district officials responded to the message voters sent in rejecting the 2018 measure by proposing a much smaller bond that will be repaid in five years rather than 30.
“We did the best we could to listen and learn from the last bond, to take that and go back to the drawing board,” he said. “What we came up with was a result of community member involvement.”
Hawkins said he’s eager for residents to see the improvements that the bond money will help to pay for.
“I’m excited for the public to see what these dollars are going to look like,” he said. “We’re going to make the most of this bond. I think it’s a really good opportunity to gain that community trust.”
In other races on Tuesday’s ballot:
Baker School Board
In the one contested race, for position 3, Jessica Dougherty received 1,819 votes to defeat Koby Myer, who had 1,747 votes.
Travis Cook was the only candidate for position 4 on the board.
Idaho border measure
In a countywide measure, voters decided to require Baker County commissioners to meet three times per year to discuss a proposal to include 18 Oregon counties, including Baker, as part of Idaho. For the state border to actually move, however, would require the approval of both the Oregon and Idaho legislatures, and of Congress.
The measure received 3,336 yes votes and 2,469 no votes.
The measure requires commissioners “to discuss how to promote the interests of Baker County in any negotiations regarding relocating the state borders of Idaho to include Baker County,” according to the ballot title.
Library district levy extension
By a wide margin, county voters extended the Baker County Library District’s tax levy for five years. The measure passed by 3,947 votes to 1,711.
Halfway marijuana measure
Voters in the eastern Baker County town rejected a measure that would have allowed marijuana businesses, including dispensaries, growing and processing operations, within the city limits.
A total of 119 voters opposed the measure, with 51 voting in favor.