Baker's budget battle
BAKER - For the third time Tuesday night, the Baker City Council voted down a proposal to raise water and sewer rates to off-set a budget deficit.
Nearly a dozen residents spoke on the issue; some said they were concerned about how the money would be spent if the increase was approved. A resounding number of people were against the increase because, they said, their bills are high enough.
"You owe the citizens the responsibility of how you're going to spend this money," said Admon McCastle.
But, others also talked about their concerns with the increase failing.
"It's something we need," said another resident. "If we don't do it now, the next increase is going to double."
"The law says you can't spend more money than you take in," said Councilman Pete Heine who reintroduced the ordinance and asked for a vote on increasing water rates. He said it was something that needed to be visited again.
Heine was the only council member who voted for the measure.
Police Chief Mike Knapps said the budget issue puts him in an uneasy spot. The hole is forcing him to stretch fewer officers across more of the city. Knapps said his department has four unfilled positions and because of that, he's had to increase each current officer's patrolling area.
"I know it doesn't seem to be popular and no tax is," said Knapps, "But if not now, when? If not you guys, who?"
There are also unfilled positions at the Baker Department of Public Works and there is concern over who the budget might impact the fire rating. An increase could mean more expensive homeowner's insurance.
The proposed water rate increase called for a flat fee of $6 to each monthly water bill. Since it failed, Mayor Harold Rideau said his next order of business is to balance the budget.
"Make cuts and still maintain, maybe not maintain all the services, but some of the services that we've been providing to the citizens," he said.
The mayor will discuss ways to trim at a meeting on Friday.