Presentation to go to Hines council next
By Randy Parks
With the towns of Burns and Hines facing dwindling populations and shrinking budgets, support seems to be growing for the merging of the two cities’ services.
On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Harney County residents Fred Flippence and Peggy Asmussen explained to the Burns City Council why they believe consolidating services would benefit the entire community.
Flippence stated that he had attended a Hines Common Council meeting several weeks ago, where he mentioned that he had looked at both cities’ budgets, and if the cities were to merge, they could save about $500,000 each year.
“Both cities need money for streets, storm drains, parks and other improvements. Both cities have the same struggle,” Flippence said.
He said he was asked to approach the council to ask about the possibility of setting up a task force to explore the possibility of merging services. “Looking at it as an accountant, it’s a no-brainer,” Flippence said. “You don’t need two city administrators, two police chiefs, two fire chiefs, two insurance payments. You’re just doubling all expenses.”
Flippence added that maybe years ago it made sense to have the cities separate, but now the cities aren’t growing, and it would be wise for both cities to look at it. “Take the emotions out of the discussion, and we could really do some improvements. You’re talking a lot of money to improve the community,” he said.
Asmussen stated that a resident of Hines had commented that a merger would result in paying a lot more in taxes. After looking into the matter, Asmussen found out that a person owning a home worth $100,000 would only pay about $17 more each year. “And from people I’ve talked to, that $500,000 is a low-ball figure,” she said. “We need to make it a combined effort.”
Flippence pointed out that it would also help out with economic development by eliminating the confusion of which city a prospective business should talk to, as well as lifting the burden of businesses having to purchase two business licenses.
“You see this blue sport coat I have on?” Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette asked. “This is my ‘choir robe.’ I’ll let you figure that one out.”
Councilor Bill Renwick said the task force should have an independent party, rather than council members, head it up. “It needs to be a citizen-type organization,” he said. “We tried to do this with the police and that died an ugly death.”
Flippence explained that merging the police forces didn’t work because they were trying to merge the departments, yet still have two councils. “I’m talking about combining the two cities. One council, one city government,” he said.
Councilor Dan Hoke agreed that a merge needed to be driven by citizens’ initiative, and he stated that the same request needed to be presented to the Hines council.
One member of the audience, Maureen Webber, said she had talked to people who were against the idea, and their reasons were “totally emotional.”
“It doesn’t make any sense having two tiny towns, shoulder-to-shoulder,” she said. “My high school was bigger than the two towns put together.”
Hines councilor Ron Williams stated that he was asked to attend the meeting and listen to the presentation. “I think it’s a fantastic idea to do the same presentation to the Hines council,” he said. “I looked into merging, and it’s a simple process. The problem with Hines is history, but times are changing. I think it’s a good idea, but we need to work together.”
“Burns and Hines won’t lose their history; it’s there,” Councilor Terri Presley said. “We need to make new history. We’re too close and intertwined to be separate.”
The council agreed they shouldn’t take any action until the presentation was made to the Hines council.
Harney Rodders, a car club, had several members in attendance to request a street closure on Aug. 17.
Spokesperson Polly Post said the club was wanting to hold a one-day car show at Washington Park and asked to have North Birch, between East Washington and East Adams, closed so the club could have games and events in the area.
Post said the club wanted to use Washington Park because it’s close to town, and she invited merchants to get involved if they were interested.
City Manager (CM) Don Munkers said he would check with public works and the police department about the closure.
CM Munkers reported that Cycle Oregon would be coming through Burns in September. “They’ll just about double the population of Burns with around 2,000 riders coming in,” he said.
Munkers said that several weeks ago, an AirLink plane was on approach to the Burns airport when the power went out in a large area of the community, including the runway lights. “The plane had to turn around, and they sent a helicopter in its place, but it brought out the point we need to have a back-up generator,” Munkers said. He noted that not many general aviation airports in the state have a back-up generator, and installation is costly, about $15,000, but there is a need.
CM Munkers said he talked with the State Fire Marshal’s office regarding the fire suppression system at the airport and they would be moving forward, with the bids going out soon.
The city is working with the county and the city of Hines on a weed control program to eradicate weeds in the cities and along the nature trail.
Also in his report, Munkers said he had attended meetings regarding enhanced projects through the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), a disaster mitigation plan, and a lease for the SEAT Base at the airport.
Munkers added that he had been notified that the cemetery was not an endowment or perpetual-care cemetery, so that would free up some money for repair or improvements.
In other business:
• the council voted to donate funds to the Harney County Senior and Community Services meal program ($75), Harney District Hospital’s Monte Carlo Night ($100), Kids Club of Harney County Diamonds in a Glass ($125), and the Burns High School Class of 2013 all-night party ($100);
• regarding the proposed ATV ordinance, CM Munkers said they are still waiting for a reply from ODOT, but are moving forward. He stated that one issue that has risen is that if an ATV is on a city street, the rider’s insurance becomes null and void;
• Fire Chief Scott Williamson reported that his department recently responded to two attic fires and a motor home fire and that the average response time was five-and-a-half minutes. “I think the crew did a great job,” he said.
Because LaFollette and Munkers are going to be out of town at the end of the month, the council agreed to not hold a meeting on Feb. 27, unless something comes up that necessitates a meeting. The next council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March, 13.