Cascade Locks city council moves on marketing old fire hall

February 15, 2012

CASCADE LOCKS - In a wide-ranging meeting Monday, City Council decided to take what it calls the "development approach" in finding a buyer for the long-dormant old fire hall on WaNaPa Street.

Real estate firms in Portland will be invited to take a look at marketing the city's old fire hall.

City Council decided on one of four options for proceeding with marketing the fire hall. Council decided against paying for a $3,400 appraisal on the property, one which might need to be done again in six months, opting instead for going directly to realty firms in Portland. Interim administrator Paul Koch said he consulted with the firms on the phone and learned that the brokers know the community and have "a high interest" in helping market the property.

Council member Gail Lewis and others noted that any proceeds from a sale of the old fire hall need to be directed toward paying down the debt on the new fire hall. The 2005 financing plan for the new fire hall was predicated in part on money to come from sale of the old facility.

In other news, council accepted the resignation of City Council member Eva Zerfing. The city is now taking applications for those interested in filling the remaining two years, 10 months on Zerfing's term. Citizens have two weeks to apply, and council will interview applicants in a special meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 29.

The council also adopted a set of budget priorities that emphasizes fire and emergency services, economic development and departmental services organization.

Council held a lengthy conversation with Charlie Beck, superintendent of Hood River County School District, over the future of Cascade Locks School. Beck reiterated the district's "commitment" to keep the K-5 school open (it now has 69 students).

He noted that the dynamics of elementary school children and parental involvement at those early grade levels heavily influences the school district's willingness to keep the K-5 school open. He said the board is committed long-term to keeping it open, and the district has the resources to do so.

Beck declined to cite a specific number when council members asked him what minimal enrollment the district would use to decide to close Cascade Locks School.

Mayor Lance Masters asked Beck about the perception that Cascade Locks residents lack representation on school board, after the change in board boundaries in 2005, and asked if the school board would be willing to undertake a poll to determine whether or not Cascade Locks' residents want a proposed merger with Corbett School District.

"What kind of commitment is the school board willing to make to allow Cascade Locks the right of self-determination?" Masters asked Beck. "Will it be our community that decides or will it be the broader community of the whole district?"

Beck replied, "At this point in time, and I'm going to be careful with my words, there is no place in the boundary process that the folks in Cascade Locks specifically weigh in on that decision. As I read the statute, and as interpreted by our legal counsel, who have spent a lot of time on this, that decision on the vote is going to be all of the residents of Hood River County."

Beck told the council, "We are honoring the (boundary) process, the statute and how it's laid out." Currently the process does not provide for polling by the school district, but he said he would communicate the idea to the school board.

Beck also noted that he had received "100-percent positive feedback from Cascade Locks parents whose children are attending school in Hood River" and said parents of Cascade Locks students enrolled at HRVHS said their children are "thriving."

"Students from Cascade Locks are among the top students at HRVHS academically and athletically," Beck said he was told by Principal Karen Neitzel.

Council also approved three diverse expenditures:

$8,000 to the Tourism Committee to support the Columbia Gorge Racing Association's efforts to promote racing events in the Gorge this summer.

"This is a really important program for our community. The boats are being put to good use and it's great for economic development and getting people in the community involved," said Council member Tom Cramblett.

Up to $225,000 to replace a bucket truck that is a key piece of equipment used by city light maintenance crews.

Up to $50,000 to fund an electrical rate study, "to adequately create the rates necessary to operate and maintain quality electric service in the community." Approval means the city will issue a "request for quotes" and seek a firm to hire to do the study.

The vote was unanimous, though councilors did initially question the projected cost of the study.

"It costs money to keep up-to-date," Koch said. "If you can get it for less, great; but if you're going to expect an electrical system that will serve your goals of economic development, you've got to know where you are, where you're going and how the pieces fit together."

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