DEQ flags Prineville well water

Downtown wells could be contaminated with gasoline

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 28. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials are warning downtown Prineville residents not to drink water from shallow wells, which may be contaminated by gasoline that has seeped into the groundwater.

City Manager Robb Corbett said at a City Council meeting Tuesday that the DEQ has asked the council to pass an ordinance banning people from using shallow groundwater for drinking. But the council members decided to look into how many people would be affected before making a decision.

The affected area lies roughly in the rectangle bordered by First Street, Harwood Avenue, Fifth Street and Dunham Street in the downtown corridor of the city.

The area has a mixture of homes and businesses, with a few churches, Prineville’s City Hall and the Crook County Courthouse.

Corbett said he does not think many, if any, people still use wells for drinking water in that area, since it is centrally located and most homes should be connected to the city’s water system. Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham said there is no chance the city’s water is contaminated because its wells are dug hundreds of feet deeper than the problematic groundwater.

“Because it’s in the downtown core, we’re kind of thinking that there aren’t going to be any people affected by it,” Corbett said. “By contacting these people, letting them know what’s going on, if they do have wells … at least they’re informed of the fact that this is a potentially hazardous situation and you might want to act appropriately.”

Bob Schwarz, a project manager with the DEQ, said the agency’s concerns stem from some cleanup it worked on in downtown Prineville between 1997 and 2000. Schwarz said that old fuel tanks at gas stations – which used to stand at the current locations of City Hall and Boss Hogg’s Smoke Shop, both on Third Street – contaminated the groundwater in the area.

Schwarz said that starting in the mid-1990s there were some complaints to local Prineville officials that fumes from the leaking gasoline were causing respiratory problems. In late 1997, the fire chief also received many complaints from people working in the area and contacted DEQ.

In the late 1990s, the DEQ cleaned up the groundwater in the area to levels that are acceptable but not safe for drinking. The city also received a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to do cleanup prior to building the new City Hall, which opened in summer 2005.

“There was enough gasoline in the groundwater that vapors were seeping up into buildings and people were breathing it, so the contamination has been reduced several years ago already to the point that that’s no longer a problem,” Schwarz said.

However, he said, in some areas the levels of benzene in the water are still at about 70 parts per billion, far above the safe level for drinking water of less than one part per billion. Benzene is an element of gasoline that can be a carcinogen, Schwarz said.

During the cleanup between 1997 and 2000, the DEQ went door to door to survey residents about their wells. Schwarz said the agency did not find anyone drinking from a shallow well. He added that he is not concerned about the gasoline contaminating the Crooked River because the affected area doesn’t extend as far west as the river.

“This is not to prevent something that’s currently happening or even is likely to happen in the future, it’s just kind of a very low cost insurance policy to prevent them from doing so,” he said.

Several residents of the targeted area said that they only use city water for drinking. Nancy Christianson, who has lived on Fourth Street for about a year, said she doesn’t drink from a well, but she is not sure whether any of her neighbors do or not.

Carl Dutli, the Prineville city attorney, said that it is more likely people would use shallow wells for watering their lawns than for drinking, but added, “There are a lot of things that concern me about the situation.”

“I’m scratching my head saying, ‘Gee, if this was a concern, why didn’t DEQ contact us 10 years ago saying you’ve got this problem, you need to stop people from doing this?'” he said.

The DEQ could pass deed restrictions on individual properties to prevent people from drinking the shallow groundwater, but Schwarz said a city ordinance would be more effective because the contamination may extend to many neighboring lots.

Corbett said that he expects to have contacted everyone by mail in the affected area and arrive at an estimate of how many people drink from these wells by the next City Council meeting on Nov. 14. He added that connecting people who currently drink from wells to the city’s water system could be expensive for both the city and the residents.

“There is potentially a significant cost and I think that’s one of the reasons why the City Council wanted to know who’s affected, so they could look at that aspect,” he said.

He added that if anyone is concerned about their water, they should wait for a letter from City Hall and respond to that.

At the City Council meeting last Tuesday, some councilors wondered what the city’s liability would be if it did not take action now that the DEQ has informed them of the problem.

“I think it’s our responsibility to tell people that they can not drink this water,” Councilor Betty Roppe said.

Dutli said that once the mail survey is finished the council will have a clearer idea of how to proceed.

“Once we get all that done we’ll take a look at it and see, number one, what’s our liability, and number two, what’s the danger,” Dutli said. “The city certainly doesn’t want to knowingly or even negligently allow people to get ill.”


Next steps uncertain in Prineville M37 payout

Grover Palin’s claim is first M37 claim to be paid in state

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 25. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Standing on his steeply sloped property that looks out over downtown Prineville, Barnes Butte and the mountains beyond, Grover Palin reflected on the Prineville City Council’s decision last week not to let him build a home on his land.

“I’m just an average guy that … have worked hard all their life and would like to have the fruits of that work,” Palin said. “I don’t think we’d hurt the city of Prineville if we did.”

In the wake of the City Council’s historic decision last week – the first time in the state a government has agreed to pay out a claim instead of waiving land use regulations – officials and property-rights groups around the state are waiting to see what kind of repercussions the council’s vote could have on Measure 37 decisions in the future.

Measure 37 allows property owners who bought their land prior to certain regulations being enacted to file claims if the restrictions reduce property values. If a municipal government decides that a property owner has a valid claim, it can either waive the land use regulations or compensate the owner for the loss of value to the land.

At a special meeting last week, the City Council voted to compensate Palin $47,760 for the development rights on his land rather than to allow him to build on the edge of the rimrock that surrounds the city. Prineville is set in a valley bordered by juniper-covered, flat-topped cliffs.

Palin bought his land in 1963. In 1978, the county established regulations requiring that houses be set back at least 200 feet from the rimrock edge.

Palin, 80, said he originally bought the 15-acre property as a pasture for his horses and later realized that it included 2.04 acres on top of the rimrock.

After living and working for many years in a house near the bottom of the 15-acre parcel, he said he and his wife, Edith, 79, began seriously considering building a home around 1996.

The Palins continue to live on Southwest Crestview Road, near the bottom of his land that rises up from the Meadow Lakes Golf Course, with their daughter and son-in-law. The rimrock area is visible from the west entrance to town on state Highway 126, and there are no other houses on the edge of the rimrocks right now. Palin said that he would want to build a three-bedroom house, preferably one story but possibly two, because he could have to sell it as he and his wife get older.

The council set the loss of value to the Palins’ land at $47,760, saying the payout was contingent upon them filing another Measure 37 claim with the state and obtaining a waiver of the state’s land use regulations. The council decided on this provision because it said the land would be worth even less if the state would not waive its rules. Councilors said at the meeting that the Palins should have filed simultaneously with the state in the first place.

“They are the overriding land use body, so in essence if we were to waive it and say, ‘OK, we’re going to release our land use restrictions,’ that still wouldn’t be enough, he still has to go to the state,” said Jerry Gillham, assistant city manager in Prineville. “It’s a double-check system.”

Palin said that when he first filed his claim with Crook County, he was told he did not need to go to the state because the regulation preventing him from building was a county restriction.

Lane Shetterly, director of the Department of Land Conservation and Development in Salem, said his office – which handles Measure 37 claims filed with the state – currently takes about 170 to 175 days to process a claim.

Palin said he is not sure how he and his wife will proceed with their Measure 37 claim now. They originally filed with Crook County in November, before their land was annexed into Prineville along with about 200 “island” parcels of land in March. The city then accepted the claim and set a new start date for filing at May 1, because Measure 37 requires that action be taken within 180 days.

The Palins now have two basic options, according to officials from the city and Oregonians in Action, the property-rights group that wrote Measure 37. They can file a claim with the state in order to eventually collect the money awarded by the city – assuming the state grants a waiver. Or they can appeal the amount of money to the Crook County Circuit Court. If the state does not grant a waiver, the amount of compensation would have to be renegotiated.

Ross Day, director of legal affairs for Oregonians in Action, said he does not think Palin can appeal the decision not to let him build on the land because Measure 37 gives local governments power to decide whether to waive regulations or pay.

“It sounds to me like Measure 37 worked how it was supposed to work,” Day said. “The statute gives the discretion to the local government to decide whether or not they’re going to pay or waive, and that’s really not a place for a property owner to question. That is something that’s reserved to the local government, so I don’t know how they would challenge that.”

Palin said he is still not sure whether he will accept the money the council said he is due.

“I expected to be able to build up there, I’ve owned it for 43 years, and I’ve paid taxes on it,” he said. “I never wanted money, I’m not looking for money, all I’m looking for is the use of my land for a home.”

Settling on a number

The City Council considered two different appraisals of the land’s value to arrive at the figure of $47,760. An appraisal the Palins requested from Appraisal Associates of Oregon put the market value of the land at $195,000, assuming that it would be a buildable lot with city water and sewer service, according to Patrick Solitz of Appraisal Associates.

At a meeting on Sept. 26, the council decided to get a second appraisal from Bucknum’s Appraisals, which gave a market value of $60,000 and made similar assumptions as the first appraisal, appraiser Steve Bucknum said.

Under Measure 37, if a municipality decides to pay a property owner rather than waive land use regulations, it is not paying to buy the land, but rather compensating the owner for the loss of value in not being able to develop the land. That means that the compensation figure could be lower than the market value of the land, Bucknum said.

The Palins’ appraisal did not include a value for the land if it could not be developed, but only the assumed market value of the land if a home could be built. The city’s appraisal put the current value of the land without development rights at $12,240; the council subtracted that figure from the appraised market value of $60,000 to arrive at the amount of $47,760 for the loss of value to the land.

At the meeting, Palin disputed the second appraisal’s statement that the valley floor is not visible from the rimrock property and that the land does not have an easement providing access from the highway.

The city’s appraiser, Bucknum, said at the meeting that he “probably was on the wrong piece of land.”

“I’m angry that the City Council can eliminate our appraisal and accept another one that I think I had seven or eight holes to punch into it that night, but they had their minds made (up) before they got there,” Palin said this week.

But Bucknum said that his appraisal made several assumptions in the Palins’ favor and that the view of the valley floor was not a factor in it. He added that he purposefully stayed off the Palins’ property in order to avoid charges of trespassing.

Eric Stachon, communications director for 1000 Friends of Oregon, a land use watchdog group that initially opposed Measure 37, said that in considering these claims local governments need to carefully work out the loss of value to the land and make sure that either the waiver or the amount of compensation is equivalent to that loss.

“If you can show a million-dollar loss of value on your property (from not being able to build), it’s not fair and it’s a windfall profit to allow somebody to build a $50 million subdivision on a loss of value of a million dollars,” Stachon said. “We don’t think that’s what voters intended.”

Historic trendsetter or isolated case?

Stachon and others across the state said they are not sure what impact the Prineville case could have on other Measure 37 claims.

“It’s pretty amazing – I’m not sure what kind of repercussions it has,” Stachon said. “It’s certainly more of an isolated case. There’s been over 3,300 claims filed and this has been the first one where there’s serious talk of compensation.”

Day, of Oregonians in Action, said the payout could have an effect on other decisions.

“I suspect that what it will do is it will show folks how exactly that paying somebody isn’t necessarily a scary thing,” he said. “I don’t know that it will lead to more payments per se.”

Shetterly of Department of Land Conservation and Development said that many local governments simply do not have the option of offering compensation because of a lack of funding.

“Other governments around the state, both local and at the state level as well, will be very interested in following this,” Shetterly said. “I think, though, that in most jurisdictions the reason you haven’t seen payments is just that most local governments either don’t have or aren’t in a position to commit the resources to pay, and this isn’t going to change that.”

Prineville city officials said that the money for the Palins’ claim would most likely come from the general fund or dollars from the city-owned City of Prineville Railway.

In making their decision last week, council members said they believe they were acting according to the wishes of Prineville residents.

“I think the rimrock is extremely important to this community, it’s what defines it and to allow a home built that is a visual blight, if you will, on that rimrock,” Councilor Bobbi Young said at the meeting. “(That) would be a very tough thing for me to accept.”

Curt Saunders, a Prineville resident, said he thinks the council made the right decision.

“I think that a person should be allowed to (do) with their land, within reason, they should be able to do whatever they want with it,” Saunders said. “I’m glad that they did what they did, that they paid him off, and I would hate to see a skyline of houses there.”

But Jeff Jones, who lives around the corner from the Palins on Southwest Rimrock Road, said he thinks the Palins should have the right to build.

“It doesn’t bother me, no, the people own the land, they should be able to do what they want with it,” Jones said. “I don’t think we should be spending our tax dollars to keep them from doing it.”

The Palins said at the City Council meeting that they don’t think Prineville residents would mind a house built on top of the rimrock since no one showed up for any of the three public hearings on the issue. Mayor Mike Wendel said he does not think that can be taken as evidence of public sentiment.

“I think just because people don’t show up to the meeting doesn’t mean they’re not concerned, it just means for some people that they’re very busy and they have things going on in their lives,” Wendel said.

For now, Palin said he is still weighing his options. He and his wife asked the City Council questions about their claim at a meeting Tuesday night, but councilors told them they would set up a later meeting to address their concerns.

“We know how to work and we know how to save and we didn’t need a lot of money, we’re really just pretty simple people and it’s a crying shame that the city is making such a big deal of it,” he said. “It’s a dream we had and it may not ever come but it’s not going to make or break us either way.”

Crook County residents will vote on $12M swim center

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 25. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The 53-year-old Crook County pool is showing its age. It is leaking water, there are problems with the septic system, and swimmers often leave with cuts on their feet from the rough bottom.

This year, Crook County voters will be asked whether they want to build a new aquatic center. The new center would be open year-round and include an indoor pool, an outdoor pool and multipurpose rooms, according to Jeannie Searcy, business manager for the Crook County Parks & Recreation District. It would be located on the current site of Davidson Field, on Southeast Third Street in downtown Prineville.

Two proposed levies would cover the costs of building and operating the Crook County Swim and Activity Center, with the operating levy contingent on the construction bond’s passing.

A $12 million general obligation bond for the construction of the pool would result in a levy of 73 cents for every $1,000 of taxable assessed property value, or $146 for a house assessed at $200,000. The five-year operating levy would cost property owners 38 cents for every $1,000 of taxable assessed value; that means a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 would pay $76 a year.

The current pool was built in 1953 and consists of only an outdoor facility, which is open about 2 1/2 months a year, Searcy said.

“It has a lot of major, major problems, (and) I feel the parks district has done a good job keeping it open, but how much longer that’s going to happen is anybody’s guess,” Searcy said.

This is the second time the swim center proposal has appeared on the ballot in Crook County. Searcy said she thinks the measure failed the first time because voters did not have enough information about the cost of building an indoor/outdoor pool facility.

“People want an indoor pool. They want something they can use year round, and I think part of the problem is people just didn’t understand how expensive that is,” she said.

This time, a local political action committee called Volunteers in Action has been talking to voters and raising pledges toward the operating costs of the facility. Donna Jacobson, co-chairwoman of Volunteers in Action, said she thinks Crook County residents are largely in favor of building a new pool.

“The other one is basically falling apart,” Jacobson said. “It’s hard to find something to do around Crook County. We don’t have a theater, we don’t have a skating rink. (The pool is) something the whole family and our seniors can enjoy.”

Jacobson said that even though the bond has gone up from $7 million on the first ballot proposal to $12 million this time, the pool will actually be more affordable because Crook County’s population has grown. But she added that construction costs are always increasing.

“What we were surprised to find out was that the cost was just going up and up every year,” Jacobson said. “So my concern is that if they wait, it’s never going to be less expensive.”

That has proved true in Madras, where voters approved an $8.1 million bond for construction of a swim center in November 2004. But in May, the first round of bidding on the project resulted in a single bid of over $8 million, which would have left no money for design costs, Project Manager Mike Marino said.

“What was unexpected was the escalation in construction costs over the last two years,” Marino said.

Searcy said she is sure the Crook County center will be able to stay within budget.

“We certainly wouldn’t be doing it for $12 million if we weren’t confident,” Searcy said, adding that a feasibility study determined the costs of the project.

Searcy said the study put the annual cost of operating the pool at $500,000 to $600,000, which would be paid for by the $50,000 budget for the current pool, funding from the the parks and recreation district and the operational bond.

The new center would also charge about $2.50 for swimming, which would bring in about $200,000 a year, Searcy added. Jacobson said Volunteers in Action has already raised $121,000 in pledges toward the cost of operating the pool and is working on obtaining grants and endowment funds.

Barbara Dalton, a member of the parent-teacher organization at Cecil Sly Elementary School who has two young children, said she is in favor of building a new pool, but she added that many people she has talked to think the proposed center is too expensive.

“They think the price is too high, and I differ with them, saying, ‘It’s going to offer so much more than you think,’ so price doesn’t really matter,” Dalton said. “It is a bit steep, but I think it will be very beneficial to our community.”

Four contenders vie for three seats in Prineville race

Mike Wendel also running unopposed for another term as city’s mayor

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 24. 2006 5:00AM PST

In a race that several of the candidates said they did not expect to be contested, four Prineville men are running for three open seats on the Prineville City Council.

Mayor Mike Wendel is also running unopposed for re-election. The council positions carry a four-year term, while the mayor serves a two-year term.

Two councilors, Chet Petersen and Brenda Comini, are stepping down when their terms end this year. Tim Harris, who was appointed to a council seat two years ago, is running to keep his seat.

While most of the candidates said they have not done much campaigning yet, they are excited that the election will offer voters a choice for positions that are often uncontested.

Candidate Dustin Conklin could not be reached for comment over the past week.

Tim Harris

Tim Harris knows what it’s like to be a teenager in Prineville, with the closest movie theater half an hour away and few entertainment options in town.

Harris grew up in Prineville and graduated from high school there in 1992. Now, he is seeking election to the Prineville City Council, on which he has served for the last two years.

“I’m the only one who has kids at home on the council so I kind of bring that aspect to it,” Harris said. “I’d like to work toward seeing more things for kids around here, as much as we’ve grown.”

Harris was appointed to the council two years ago after former Councilor Mike Wendel was elected mayor. This is the first time Harris’ name has appeared on the ballot.

If elected, Harris said, he would like to take a larger leadership role on the council. Harris has worked at the headquarters of Les Schwab Tires in Prineville for 14 years total, and describes himself as “just an average guy.”

His accomplishments so far, Harris said, have included cooperating with other council members of a range of issues and serving as the chairman of the traffic safety committee.

“I’ve been very involved, I feel, with the committees I’ve been on,” he said. “(I’m) bringing an open mind and working with the other councilors to make the best decisions.”

Dean Noyes

Dean Noyes has had his share of living in a big city, but he said that when his third child was born he and his wife decided to settle in Prineville to raise their family.

Now, Noyes wants to help guide the community as a member of the Prineville City Council. He is running against three other candidates for one of the three open seats on the council.

Noyes said he wasn’t expecting the election to be contested, but he is glad that several people want to serve and that the voters will have a choice of candidates.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved in government, I’ve always loved the process,” Noyes said. “This a friendly race, it’s interesting that it’s contested. I don’t think anyone expected it until the last minute, but what a great thing for the city of Prineville.”

Having worked “on both sides of the desk” as a small-business owner and bank loan officer offers him connections throughout Prineville’s business community and an understanding of what businesses need to succeed, Noyes said.

“What better opportunity, I think, to help effect change with a growing community like Prineville than to help understand the socio-economic conditions?”

Noyes grew up in Estacada and worked in Gresham before moving to Prineville in early 2001. He has three children in the local school system and said he has taken an active role in their schools.

“There’s so much growth going on here (and) coming to town,” Noyes said. “I think I can bring a lot to the council just from the personal side of having family interests but also having the professional interests that I do with my career.”

Steve Uffelman

Former mayor Steve Uffelman has seen a lot of changes in Prineville during his almost 20 years in local government, and he said his experience would be his greatest asset if elected to another four-year term on the City Council.

Uffelman stepped down as mayor in 2004. He said he has put his hat back into the ring in this council race because he wants to continue to serve the community.

“I enjoy it,” Uffelman said. “I don’t really have any particular agendas or projects that I want to work on — the council is an evolving type of role that things will come forward that need to be addressed.”

Uffelman said the institutional memory he brings to the role would be important as the council continues to deal with the growth occurring in Prineville.

“I bring an understanding of where the city has been, the history of the city (and) knowledge of why decisions were made the way they were,” he said. “Whether they’re right for today’s times, that remains to be debated.”

His two biggest priorities, Uffelman said, would be keeping the city within an affordable budget and making sure that the City of Prineville Railway is financially profitable.

“I think people pretty much know who I am and what I’ve done in the past and if they would like me to continue in that role then fine, and if they would like other folks to do that then that’s their choice.”

Mike Wendel

Mike Wendel doesn’t have any opponents in his bid for re-election as mayor of Prineville, but that doesn’t mean he has been taking a breather from city government.

Wendel said his top priorities right now include working on a drug free Prineville-Crook County program and the City of Prineville Railway. He is also on the board of directors for the League of Oregon Cities and was recently named to the board of the Oregon Mayors Association.

“I still have projects I need to try and complete and I think your first term is a lot of learning,” Wendel said.

Wendel completed two years out of a four-year term on the Prineville City Council before running for mayor in 2004. He said he thinks his tenure has seen greater cooperation between the city, county and private sector, a trend he would like to continue by creating a local economic development position.

Like many Prineville residents, Wendel said that one of the greatest challenges facing the town right now is growth.

“You always have growth, but I think a lot of communities have growth, so that’s normal,” he said. “We still have some work to do on our infrastructure.”

Wendel said his Prineville roots make him a good fit for the job.

“I’m a family man, I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “I have a desire for the political position and I want to help.”

Two run for Crook County Court post

Former state lawmaker wants to be local voice

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 22. 2006 5:00AM PST

Eight years ago, Lynn Lundquist was one of most powerful politicians in the state, serving as speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.

Now, Lundquist, a Republican, said he wants to return to the political arena in Crook County. He is challenging Democratic incumbent Mike Mohan for commissioner on the Crook County Court. Mohan has served one four-year term as commissioner, a part-time position that pays $30,507 a year.

Lundquist said he is seeking the seat on the county commission because he wants to take an active role in the residential and business growth that has already started to move into Crook County.

“I believe that Crook County has a great challenge ahead of it in regards to the rapid growth that’s going to come,” Lundquist said. “My desire is to oversee that growth at the same time that we maintain our rural lifestyle and culture as much as possible.”

Lundquist represented Central and Eastern Oregon in the state Legislature from 1995 until 2000, serving as Speaker of the House in 1997 and 1998.

He is currently the president of the Oregon Business Association and a part-time rancher in Powell Butte. He has lived in Crook County since 1976 and was formerly president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

He started his political career as a member of the Crook County Planning Commission.

Lundquist said that while he wwas working in Salem he kept the interests of Crook County at heart. For example, he worked on legislation that led to the creation of turning lanes on state Highway 126.

“I’ve decided it’s time to come home, so to speak, (to) bring my qualifications, experience and leadership to help Crook County,” he said.

Lundquist said that one of his top priorities throughout his political career has been education. He is especially proud of he and his wife’s efforts in taking in 11 needy teenagers over the years.

“These were kids that were having problems and these teenagers simply needed two basic things, they needed a love and they needed a loving discipline,” he said.

Another central goal, Lundquist said, is making the legislative process as transparent as possible. Last year, Lundquist disagreed with Mohan about rerouting Powell Butte Highway and served on a committee that recommended shaving the curves’ banks. Lundquist called the county commission’s actions in that situation “inappropriate.”

“They basically had their mind made up and then came to the people to get their input,” he said. He added that the county government should focus on customer service when serving the public.

Lundquist’s campaign signs have popped up around Powell Butte and Prineville, and he said he has also been mailing brochures and going door-to-door to talk to voters.

One series of five signs reads, “Common-Sense Approach/ Experience to Lead/ Listens to the People/ That’s Who We Need!/ Lundquist: Commissioner.”

“People will vote for someone if they have the trust in them because they may not agree with the candidate on every position,” he said. “I love Crook County, we chose to move here and I’m very, very sincere in wanting to keep Crook County as much Crook County as we can and still manage the growth that comes.”

Incumbent has more goals yet to accomplish

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 22. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Mike Mohan has been a commissioner on the Crook County Court for the last four years. But he has been an accountant for 30 years and that has a big influence on how he approaches his political role.

“I question decisions about lease versus buy, I question decisions about, ‘Do we need to buy this piece of equipment?'” Mohan said. “I’m pretty frugal in trying to oversee the public’s money as best I can.”

Mohan, a Democrat, is seeking a second term on the Crook County Court, running against former state representative Lynn Lundquist, a Republican. The part-time commissioner position pays $30,507 a year.

Mohan said his connections in the community and experiences as a small-business owner have been valuable in dealing with growth in the Prineville area and stress on the county infrastructure.

“I’m probably a lot more involved with this community (than my opponent), I think Mr. Lundquist has been working out of town for the last six years so I’ve got a lot more connection with Prineville, Powell Butte,” Mohan said. “I don’t bring a specific agenda to the court, I’m there trying to solve problems and make things work.”

His involvement with many local organizations – including the Kiwanis Club of Prineville, Crooked River Roundup, Crook County Little League and Pioneer Memorial Hospital – offer him valuable connections throughout the community, Mohan said.

One of the major issues facing the county, he said, is to continue to maintain the roads as the population increases. The county is facing budgetary problems in the next couple of years as the federal funding that compensates for timber revenues may disappear. Mohan said that funding accounts for 40 percent of the county’s budget for 600 miles of roads.

“(We are) trying to address these needs and provide those services to properly plan for those results,” he said. “It is a real challenge to continue to provide good service.”

Mohan said that currently no funding for roads comes from property taxes, and the county can not use money from the general fund for maintenance. If budget cutbacks occur, residents could see less staff and some roads not being plowed in the winter, he added.

Mohan is proud of his efforts to have more information available online for citizens. Next year, he said, Crook County residents may be able to begin paying their taxes online.

“My priorities have principally been to help to oversee how we operate as a government, to make sure that we’re doing things as efficiently as possible … and to make as much information available to the public in a manner as transparent as possible,” he said.

He added that archiving documents online improves government efficiency by reducing the number of calls made to the county clerk’s office.

For Mohan, serving as Crook County commissioner is a way to give back to the community.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my community over the years, and I see this as a continuation,” he said. “I see that I’ve got some skills that are useful to the county, and I’m very grounded in this county. I think I’ve got something to give.”

Levy would help Prineville museum preserve Crook County’s history

Tax would keep funding for the museum going for four additional years

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 20. 2006 5:00AM PST

The cost of the operating levy for Crook County’s Bowman Museum, its supporters say, is the price of maintaining a connection to the past.

And, they add, the average family pays only about $10 a year to support the museum.

One of the questions on the ballot for Crook County voters in November is whether to continue the museum’s operating levy for another four years. The levy rate, 6 cents for every $1,000 of taxable assessed property value, will not increase over last year’s. The tax rate means that someone whose house is assessed at $200,000 would pay $12 a year for the museum.

The levy supports the day-to-day operations of the museum, salaries for the two part-time employees, special programs, field trips and lecture series.

“All of that is free to the public,” said Jim Carpenter, chairman of Preserve Our Past, the political action committee supporting the levy.

A four-year operating levy has funded the museum since 1998. Since then, voters have twice approved extending the levy for another four years.

Gordon Gillespie, the museum’s director, said the levy paid for about 45 percent of the museum’s total expenses last year. The rest is made up by memberships in the Crook County Historical Society, grants and gift shop sales.

Gillespie said the museum’s annual operating budget is about $150,000, and last year the levy brought in about $68,000.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people visit the museum each year, including about 800 students.

“We consider ourselves part of the education infrastructure for the community, and because of the levy funds … the collection is professionally maintained,” Gillespie said.

The museum is open seven days a week in the summer and five days a week in the winter. Admission is free.

If the levy is not renewed next month, the money would stop being collected after 2006. That could “force the museum to reduce hours, reduce staff or otherwise reduce its effort to educate the public about the history of Crook County,” according to the text of the measure.

Gillespie and Carpenter said they expect the levy to pass.

“We’ve had such wonderful community support over the years. The community just looks at that museum as a reflection of the past and something we’re quite proud of,” Carpenter said. “It’s such a small amount of money as levies go.”

The Bowman Museum is housed in an old bank building in downtown Prineville that dates from 1911.

It has been open since 1971 after the Bowman family donated the building to the city, Gillespie said.

Inside, visitors can still see the teller windows and marble counters from the original bank. The museum also includes Western artifacts, microfilm archives of the local newspapers and a library with local genealogical information.

Gillespie said the museum plays an important role in the community because it gives Prineville “a sense of place.”

“If you drive through a town and all you see is McDonald’s and Burger King, I call that ‘Anywhere, USA.’ So when people come to the museum, they want to get a sense of how the town got here, how it developed,” Gillespie said.