March 21, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

For 10 years of ups and downs in state-budgeted staffing for the Oregon State Police, one thing has remained the same at the La Grande station: the man in charge.

And now, as the state police once again become a funding question mark in the state Legislature, even the man at the top is changing.

Lt. Frank Grammer is retiring, effective May 1.

Its been a lot of fun over the years, Grammer said Wednesday. Ive worked with lots of good people.

Grammer has spent 26fi years with the state police, beginning his career as a patrol officer in The Dalles in 1974. In 1988, he became an OSP sergeant based in Lakeview. Two years later, he came to La Grande as a first sergeant.

And since 1991, Grammer has been the lieutenant, overseeing the troopers based in Union and Wallowa counties.

Grammer now is in charge of the 10 troopers based in La Grande. But several other officers in both Union and Wallowa counties have reached the point of retirement and are expected to be submitting resignations in coming months, and one trooper will

be transferring to Portland in May.

By July, the office could be reduced to seven patrol officers, the same number that existed when Grammer came in 1990.

The new supervisor, Lt. Reginald Madsen of Baker City, will add the La Grande office and the troopers in Wallowa County to his duties.

Grammer said the expectation is that Madsen will split his time between the Baker City and La Grande OSP offices.

And it will be Madsen who will have to manage with short staffing.

Grammer isnt optimistic about the problem resolving itself.

While Gov. Kitzhaber has brought up returning some funding to the OSP budget for more patrol officers, an increase of 50 officers, spread across Oregon, means the La Grande post might get one additional officer.

Thats little solice for a group of troopers that has seen nothing but growth in their duties and responsibilities.

With 10 officers, Grammer explained, it feels like we can accomplish something.

With current staffing, local state police can maintain their duties outlined in cooperative law enforcement agreements with other agencies; they can provide 24-hour coverage; and they can keep track of the steadily growing traffic on Interstate 84.

But if the number drops to seven, its going to be a difficult situation, Grammer said.

Especially, he added, since an analysis completed in early 2000 suggests that the La Grande OSP office should have 16 patrol officers to handle the duties assigned to it.

But Grammer is looking ahead to other matters than funding shortages.

I have a little hobby working on old tractors, restoring them, Grammer said. He hasnt been working hard at his hobby lately, but is looking forward to having more time to devote to it and to traveling to old tractor events such as the Dufur threshing bee.

Particular cases from the past decade dont stand out for Grammer as he thinks back.

I dont think weve had terribly unusual cases, he said.

There have been some major fish and wildlife cases, Grammer said, that have brought to light the game violations that can plague a vacation and hunting retreat area.

Its amazing what people will come here and do with little regard for anyone else.

And then theres Interstate 84.

Weve been writing citations in the hundreds in recent weeks, Grammer said, noting the huge increase in traffic numbers since he came to La Grande.

Lack of troopers hasnt helped. Drivers, he said, used to expect to see a patrol car about every 20 miles along Interstate 84, and adjust their speeds accordingly.

Now, though, people are realizing there are not as many patrols.

Grammers face is grim at the thought, then relaxes a bit.

Maybe hes thinking about off-road vehicles: namely tractors.