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The Observer paper 12/26/14

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Patience and persistence paid off for Mayor Marge Sarmento and the Wallowa City Council in pursuing federal funding for a much-needed fire hall.

THE COUNCIL learned last week that Wallowa has won a $175,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide the lion's share of the costs for a new fire hall. The building will house trucks for both the city and rural fire departments and a health district ambulance.

The council earlier had applied for less money from the USDA. Construction of the fire hall was tied to voter approval in the spring of a proposal that would have the city borrow money to match the federal grant. Wallowa voters turned down that plan.

The Wallowa council could have given up. But it hung in there, knowing it desperately needed a new building to properly house a tanker and a new pumper truck. The old fire hall was too small to handle the equipment. Keeping the trucks indoors is particularly vital during the winter months when cold temperatures can freeze the truck's water tanks.

THE COUNCIL again applied for a grant from the USDA. This go-around the terms were much more favorable for the city and that's good news for the citizens. Wallowa has agreed to provide at least $25,000 of in-kind services to make the project come together. No large amount of local cash will be required to build the 6,700-square-foot facility.

Nothing is more basic than emergency services in a small community. Wallowa residents should be pleased that their council did not accept "no" for an answer, but stayed with it until a federal funding door swung open wide enough to make the new fire hall a reality.


What's a "living wage''?

The Eugene City Council is in the process of figuring out what it would cost to pay an hourly minimum of $11.42 for all employees with health benefits and $14.28 an hour for those without health benefits. The council last week joined the ranks of Oregon cities with a living wage law. Now they've asked staff to figure out how much it will cost.

THE CITY ESTIMATES it will cost $560,000 to $3.5 million a year because it would affect 24 permanent city employees, 238 temporary workers and 32 contract workers. No one's quite sure how the tab will be covered.

The concept of a living wage is a good one. Oregon's existing minimum wage, at $6.50 an hour, is inadequate. But doubling the minimum to achieve living wage status would be out of the question for most small businesses.


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