ENTERPRISE — A letter of support for allowing winter sports and other extracurricular school activities was approved by the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 6.
The commissioners also agreed to remarket the former Wallowa County Library lot and building, since it has failed to sell.
The letter, from the organizers of the Dec. 28 “Let Them Play!” rally at the Wallowa County Courthouse, asked that the Oregon School Activities Association:
“1. Allow students and community supporters to share thoughts about the impact that canceling school activities as sports has on their lives and the community.
“2. Put forward a rational discussion as to why county schools should be allowed to play winter sports as a school-sponsored extracurricular activity.
“3. Open a discussion on alternatives to OSAA-sponsored basketball and wrestling competition among local 1 and 2-A schools.”
The commissioners talked to one of the organizers, Dennis Sheehy, by phone during last week’s meeting.
Following the Dec. 28 rally, county Commissioner Todd Nash put organizers in contact with state Reps. Bobby Levy, R-Cove, Mark Owens, R-Crane, and state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, all of whom were supportive of the efforts. Sheehy said Owens told him schools had been given a waiver to play intermural sports and school officials have decided to do so.
As of Jan. 5, Sheehy told the commissioners the athletic directors of local schools had approached the OSAA with an alternative winter sports plan, though he did not know the details of the plan.
“What is known is that students at schools with low populations in isolated counties need to play winter sports to benefit the social, mental and physical health of the students and the community,” he said.
Sheehy is urging county commissions throughout Eastern Oregon through the Association of Eastern Oregon Counties to support decisions of schools and school boards about participation in winter sports and other extracurricular activities and play a lead role in putting together winter sports programs for local schools.
After recessing into executive session to discuss a real estate transaction, the commissioners agreed to remarket the property and building at the corner of Logan and NW 2nd streets where the former Wallowa County Library was. The building had been listed at $120,000 and they were going to remarket as a commercial property and no longer a site where someone could build a house. They said its size was considered a “substandard lot” at 60-by-75 feet for residential use, though it might be possible as a commercial lot.
Commissioner Susan Roberts, in making her motion to remarket the property, also recommended reevaluating the price that the county is asking. She said that for some uses, the building would require much rehabilitation and they should check with contractors, although they have done so in the past. She also wondered if there would be grant money obtainable for such rehabilitation.
“It would take $150,000 to $200,000 to rehab that thing to meet all the requirements,” Roberts said. “I don’t know if we can get that much grant money for it.”
The commissioners said initially, remarketing should be done on social media, rather than through realtors, who will charge a commission.
Nash said it would be better to tear the building down and reconstruct and the property’s real value is the lot. County Counsel Paige Sully agreed.
“You’d get more bang for your buck by building a new building,” she said.
Commissioner John Hillock didn’t disagree, but said that could come with its own set of problems.
“If we tear that down, we’ll have to get a variance to put something back on it, so that’s a problem, too,” he said.
According to past Chieftain stories, the library has been unused for several years. The commissioners decided in June 2017 to stop funding the library. In May 2018, voters gave a thumbs down to creating a library district. The contents of the library were subsequently distributed among the city libraries in the county.
In another matter, the commissioners announced after the meeting that checks for the federal CARES Act funds to be distributed to Wallowa County businesses were going out in the mail if they had not been picked up at the courthouse by Friday, Jan. 8.
Roberts said that although the county had 90 days from Dec. 28 to disburse the funds after the commissioners formally approved cutting the checks, they were able to complete the process quickly.
“People got on it and got the checks all completed and all ready to go,” Roberts said. “A lot of folks asked if they could pick them up and I’ll mail what’s left.”
She said recipients who had been notified could have picked up their checks at her office on the third floor of the Wallowa County Courthouse through Friday, but now the remaining checks are being mailed.
Last month, the commissioners approved the disbursement of $563,232 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to county businesses that could show economic damage largely stemming from gubernatorial executive orders that mandated shutdowns or curtailment of operating hours of businesses during the pandemic. The commissioners developed an application form, based on state and local requirements, and received 75 applications. Of that number, 67 were approved.
Also on Jan. 6, the commissioners approved several employee actions. They officially hired Joel Fish as Wallowa County sheriff. Fish had been elected in November and was sworn in Jan. 4.
The commissioners accepted the resignations of former Sheriff Steve Rogers and Chief Deputy Fred Steen, hired Summer Caughell as a temporary employee for their administration and Crystal Bronson as a full-time administrative employee and approved the termination of Morgan Forney as an administrative employee.
Also approved were the appointment of members to the Wallowa County Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund Advisory Council. David Ross’ term expired and Jennifer Hayslip was appointed to replace him. Roberts’ term expired so Hillock was named to replace her.