The Baker County Board of Commissioners, in an effort to help Baker County address economic development and job creating opportunities, has appointed a number of task forces over the past three years.
Each of these task forces have actively worked to take action and make recommendations to help Baker County meet its mission to become the "Premier Rural Living Experience in the Pacific Northwest".
Here is a synopsis of the actions of the task forces:
Armory/Conference Center Task Force
Given Baker County's success in receiving $4.2 million in state and federal funding for the construction of a new National Guard Armory, the Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed a task force in the fall of 1999 to identify how the 30,000 square foot building could be utilized and expanded for use as a conference facility.
Although Baker City and Baker County have many fine conference facilities, none of these facilities can handle events in excess of 200 people. Given the large square footage availability within the armory, and the limited use except for in times of national and local emergencies, the armory facility has great potential to host large gatherings.
The task force met for two years, and formulated a series of recommendations as follows:
-maintain the existing Chamber of Commerce building at its current location to greet out-of-town visitors,
-expand the planned Armory building adequately in order to serve as a destination facility for conferences and events,
-redevelop the western half of the existing activity building for use as an exhibit hall,
-develop a cooperative marketing program and package development with the local private sector,
-ensure adequate funding for fair and 4-H activities,
-ensure adequate budget for start up and operating expenses of conference center, and
-develop a new non-profit organization to manage and market the center.
The task force expressed concerns that Baker County may not be able to afford the operations, maintenance, and marketing responsibilities of the facility as a conference center. To mitigate this concern, the task force recommended that the law enforcement training center capacity of the facility be emphasized.
The Baker County Board of Commissioners has agreed with the findings of the task force, and is phasing the construction of the National Guard Armory to ensure that operations, maintenance, and marketing expenses are addressed.
The groundbreaking for the project is expected to be in July of 2002. The facility will open in the summer of 2003.
Fairgrounds Siting and Sizing Task Force
The Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed an 18-member task force in the fall of 1999 to address issues surrounding the location and size of fairgrounds improvements in Baker City.
The task force met over the course of 12 months, and formulated a series of recommendations as follows:
Baker County Board of Commissioners has accepted the recommendations of the task force, and is working closely with the Baker County Fair Board to improve and expand the fairgrounds at its current location on the north side of Campbell Street in Baker City.
As recently as November 2001, the Baker County Fair Board reexamined the recommendations of the task force with respect to the relocation and size of the facility.
Seeking further information on the matter, the Fair Board examined results of a public opinion poll to determine if there was community support for a bond measure to relocate the fairgrounds adjacent to the Baker Sports Complex. The findings of the poll were as follows:
The poll also concluded that there is not countywide support for an addition to a bond measure for direct improvements to the fairgrounds facility in Halfway.
The Baker County Board of Commissioners have assisted the Fair Board in raising $820,000 for fairgrounds improvements.
As of February 2002, the Fair Board is finalizing construction plans for the fairgrounds. Construction is anticipated to begin this spring and to be largely completed for the 2002 Fair in August.
Telecommunications Task Force
In 1999, not only did Baker County not have fiber optic connectivity, but it had no plan for such connectivity.
Given the severe economic impact of poor telecommunications, the Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed a task force to develop a plan for telecommunications, and to seek partnerships for fiber optic connectivity.
The task force met for approximately one year, completed a telecommunications plan at no cost to the County, and developed a series of recommendations to bring Baker County's telecommunications capacity into the 21st century.
Commission Chairman Brian Cole negotiated a deal with US West (now Qwest) to connect to fiber being laid by Level III Communications. The result of that deal is state-of-the-art telecommunications capacity in Baker City and throughout Baker County.
The remaining key ingredient for telecommunications capacity is route diversity. Route diversity is the ability to service Baker City and Baker County by more than one fiber optic line.
Baker County's support of the passage of SB 622 in the 1999 Oregon Legislative Assembly will provide that route diversity in the summer of 2002.
The result of the telecommunications enhancements has been the ability to maintain and expand existing Baker County-based businesses, as well as to recruit new industry that requires state-of-the-art telecommunications capacity.
Power Generation Task Force
Responding the apparent west coast power shortage and electricity price crisis, the Baker County Board of Commissioners appointed a 15-member task force to address opportunities in Baker County to generate power.
The fast-moving task force met on four occasions, and identified industrial site locations in Baker County for the construction of power plants based on a variety of energy sources. These energy sources include natural gas, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, and others.
In addition to finding industrial site locations, the task force identified over 40 power generators that might have an interest in building a power generation plant in Baker County.
From this information, the Board of Commissioners sent a business prospectus to the power generators raising awareness of Baker County as an ideal location for power generation.
The unexpected immediate resolution of the power price crisis has lowered the probability that a power generation plant will be constructed in Baker County. Nonetheless, the County is more prepared today than ever before for such an opportunity.
At least two benefits have already occurred from the efforts of the task force: 1) Baker County has filed for hydroelectric generation capacity at Mason Dam on the Phillips Reservoir. Baker County is seeking to preempt an out-of-state power generator from usurping Baker County's capacity to produce its own power; and 2) a biomass-fueled power plant company is exploring opportunities to generate power in Baker County based upon the large volumes of biomass (dead and dying woody material) in Baker County's national and private forests.
Pacific Northwest Law Enforcement Training Center
One of Baker County's top priorities over the past five years has been the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Law Enforcement Training Center (Training Center). The Training Center would draw from the 18,000 law enforcement officers in the four Pacific Northwest states of Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Idaho.
The training would have three broad purposes: 1) well-trained officers are generally better prepared to act decisively and correctly in a broad range of situations, 2) training results in greater productivity and effectiveness, and 3) training fosters cooperation and unity of purpose.
As many as 22 full-time family-wage jobs would be created as a result of the Training Center. Additionally, $500,000 of annually expenditures would benefit the airport, local merchants, and many other services. Finally, an increase of $220,000 in annually transient room tax receipts could be generated in Baker County.
Baker County is positioning the construction of the Training Center as Phase Three of the new National Guard Armory construction. If successful, the Training Center will come complete with federal funding for construction, operations, and maintenance.