Alyssa Sutton

Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) held a discussion with elected officials from Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties at Eastern Oregon University Tuesday afternoon.

The forum was held to discuss potential legislation for the upcoming 2019 legislative session, allowing for local representatives to bring to the table any issues or problems facing their respective towns or counties that Hansell and Barreto could introduce during the upcoming session.

Topics that were discussed included cemetery property lines; wolf-caused loss and transportation in Wallowa County; industrial development and housing and property allowances in Union County; broadband and education in Umatilla County; and a prevailing wage across all three counties.

In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime paid to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics within a particular area.

Effective July 1 of this year, wage rates for such laborers went up. According to a Bureau of Labor and Industries press release, prevailing wage rates are the minimum wages that must be paid to all workers employed on all public works. These rates are determined using data collected from a statewide construction-industry wage survey of occupations and crafts performing commercial building and heavy and highway construction in the 14 geographic regions of the state. The rates in effect at the time bid specifications are first advertised are those that apply for the duration of the project. If during the bidding process, the prevailing wage rates change, the public agency has the option of amending the bid specifications to reflect such changes.

Robert Strope, La Grande city manager, asked the legislators to work to preserve local control to provide flexibility for the smaller counties that can’t compete with the robust construction industry when it comes to wages.

“It died in committee (on the Senate side) last legislative session,” Barreto explained. “But it was a big issue in a lot of small communities around the state.”

Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts said, “One of the guys taking out debris (during the installation of the elevator at the Wallowa County Courthouse) was earning $28 an hour. He was getting paid way more than guys in our county, or guys being paid by private business. But it could depend too on where the money comes from.”

Tim Seydel, EOU vice president for university advancement, said that the university will be looking for funding for construction projects including Inlow’s grand staircase at the base of Ninth Street in La Grande. He added that campus safety was another issue EOU would like Hansell and Barreto to focus on.

“On the policy side (we will be looking for legislation) connected to school and campus safety,” Seydel said. “These are resources we looked at a few years ago after the tragedy at Umpqua Community College at a statewide level that wasn’t funded. There are a lot of needs there to provide safer environments.”

Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan discussed plans he has to modify the county jail and asked for funding for the project, currently estimated to cost $1.1 million.

For complete story see Wednesday's edition of The Observer