Baker City Manager Jon Cannon said the actions encouraged in a flier distributed recently in the city, including calling on city and county officials to defy Gov. Kate Brown’s vaccine mandate, could put the city’s insurance coverage at risk.
Cannon also said that the flier’s call for residents to withhold their property taxes if city and county officials fail to act on the mandate could leave the city unable to provide its usual services.
The one-page flier, headlined “Community Call To Action,” includes an offer to “join the movement at www.BakerCountyUnited@protonmail.com.”
The group also has a website, bakercountyunited.com.
Property taxes are a significant source of revenue for Baker City’s budget. The city receives about $3.6 million per year in property taxes, and the largest share of that money, almost $3 million for the current fiscal year that started July 1, goes to the general fund.
That fund includes the police and fire departments.
Most of the rest of the city’s share of property taxes is used for street maintenance.
“If people refused to pay their property taxes, then obviously that’s our revenue stream for a lot of the things that we do,” Cannon said. “If there were no property taxes coming into the city, then our budget would be severely slashed and a lot of the services that people have come to expect out of the city would no longer happen.”
Baker County mails property tax bills once a year, during late October, so a reduction in payments wouldn’t have an immediate effect on the city’s operations.
Cannon also encouraged property owners to consider the potential ramifications on themselves before deciding not to pay taxes.
“It’s not just an impact on the city, it’s an impact on each person,” Cannon said. “I would say that before people just decide not to pay their property taxes that I would discourage people from doing that. I understand that they may say ‘Look, we want to take a stand on this’ and they feel like that’s their way of taking a stand. But there are a lot of issues that that can open up for them personally for their properties and their homes and whatever it may be that they decide not to pay.”
For property owners who choose not to pay the full tax bill at once, the first one-third payment is due by Nov. 15, the second one-third by Feb. 15, 2022, and the final one-third by May 15, 2022.
For property owners who fail to make at least the first one-third payment by Nov. 15, interest begins to accrue on the bill starting Nov. 16. The interest rate is 1.33% per month, and accrues on the 16th of each month as long as there is an outstanding balance.
The flier urges residents to not pay their property taxes for the “October/November 2021 period ... until our elected officials do their duty and make our community a priority!”
The flier contends that the governor’s requirement that health care workers, including firefighters and other emergency responders, be vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exception by Oct. 18, could result in worker shortages.
“Without our local first responders we are a community at risk!” the flier states.
According to the flier, the group has sent letters to the Baker City Council, Baker County commissioners and Sheriff Travis Ash requesting a “public declaration of county wide mandate defiance, implementation of a self governance measure, and a warning that property taxes will be withheld if further action is not taken by these local government bodies to stand for our freedoms against these mandates.”
The Baker City Council has discussed pursuing a legal challenge to the governor’s mandates. But during their most recent meeting, on Sept. 28, councilors decided to have Cannon draft a resolution or ordinance opposing the mandates. A legal challenge is still a possibility.
The Baker County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 22 declared a local emergency, which states that the mandate could leave some local agencies unable to respond to traffic accidents and other emergencies.
Cannon said that even if Baker City were to officially ignore the mandate, it has no ability to “protect anybody in the community,” meaning employees who are affected by the mandate, such as health care workers, could not expect the city to help them if state officials seek to suspend or cancel their license, if they are required to have one.
“There’s nothing that we as a city can do to step between that doctor or that clinic, that nurse, that nursing home, and the state,” Cannon said.
If the state voided a license for one of the city’s firefighter/paramedics, Cannon said, the city could not have that worker go out on emergency calls.
Defying the governor’s vaccine mandate could also jeopardize the city’s liability insurance coverage through City-County Insurance Services, Cannon said.
“Our insurance could potentially drop us, it could jeopardize our licenses with the state,” Cannon said. “I think there’s a lot of liability for the city if we just flat out said ‘We don’t care, we’re not going to enforce this vaccination mandate on our own employees.’ It opens up a host of challenges.”
City-County Insurance Services had not returned a call from the Herald by press time on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
The Baker County United website acknowledges the potential effects of local governments defying the vaccine mandate.
“We do not do this lightly, and are aware of the collateral damage this action could have on those around us; our friends, family, neighbors and potentially even ourselves, have a high likelihood of being impacted by this movement,” the website states. “As it has become apparent that the local elected officials of Baker County will choose to not conduct themselves as representatives of their constituents, it is incumbent upon us to make change happen for our community. When local officials begin to lose the funding that they require for the duties in which they were elected, it will be up to them to recognize that we are a Government of the People and for the People; or they will remain headstrong and allow the County’s finances to fall to ruin.”