Longtime resident appointed to fill vacant spot on council seat

Written by Kelly Black, Observer correspondent November 20, 2013 10:16 am

UNION — Matthew Later took his spot on the Union City Council with an aim to promote economic growth.

The longtime Union resident was appointed Monday to replace the seat vacated by Councilor Jeannie Johnson, who moved out of the area. Johnson had served nearly six years on the council.

“I love our community,” Later said. “I would like to see it grow.”

Later, who studied business at Eastern Oregon University, said he recognizes Union has played a bedroom community role to La Grande, which is an economic hub.

“For being the second largest city in Union County and the third largest city in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties, we don’t look like it, we don’t perform like it,” he said.

Later would like to attract businesses such as tech, manufacturing, education and health care.

“I’m willing to look out across the state, across the nation, and find businesses that are willing to relocate, or considering relocation and reach out to them,” Later said. “If you are considering further expansion, we would love to work with you.”

Later and his wife, Donni, who was born and raised in Union, have five children. 

“We are raising our five kids here,” Later said. “If I can help to make it better, then I’d like to be able to do that.”

In other city council news, for the first time, Union residents will face fees and fines at the Union Carnegie Public Library for late books, replacement cards and lost or damaged items. The council voted to impose a fee and fine schedule to recoup some of the costs of operation.

“Money is tight,” said Union City Administrator Sandra Patterson. “We needed to find other revenue sources.”

One problem the library faces is residents who request materials through the interlibrary loan system and then fail to pick up the items when they arrive. While the loan service is free to library card holders, failing to pick up the requested materials will now cost $5 per item.

Younger residents of Union provided the council with feedback on transportation issues they experience in Union. Students in the fifth and 12th grade participated in workshops where they looked at maps of the city and talked about how they get to school, where they walk and ride and problems they face.

“We met with the students to find out what they thought were the obstacles to driving, walking and riding in the city of Union,” Patterson said.

Among other things, the students want more bike lanes and better crosswalks across Main Street.

“There is a crossing issue in Union,” Patterson said.

Seniors in high school said that many drivers do not slow down for children when they attempt to cross the busy highway.

According to Patterson, the city has struggled to get the Oregon Department of Transportation to provide crossings on Main Street.

The city is considering ways to add a calming effect to make Main Street safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Calming effects used by other cities include brick pathways across the street or community circles next to parks that change the feel of the road so that drivers are less likely to race through town.

Union is working with ODOT to update their Transportation System Plan. A draft of the plan will be published prior to an open house with the city council and residents that will be held in January.