Wallowa Lake residents may form new town

Where to draw the boundary around Wallowa Lake is one of the issues planners need to address if they move forward with incorporation. Photo by Rick Swart

As part of a mandated process for unincorporated communities, residents at Wallowa Lake are studying the pros and cons of incorporating into a city. Wallowa County Planning Director Bill Oliver says that such communities must meet new state guidelines for unincorporated cities or incorporate.

Meetings on the process for Wallowa Lake have been held Nov. 2 and Nov. 8 and a third meeting is scheduled in the basement of the Wallowa County Courthouse at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6.

Oliver says that Flora, Imnaha, Minam and Troy have already gone through the process with Wallowa Lake purposely held to the last because it is expected to be the most complicated. June Davis Colony did much of the legwork on the first four unincorporated cities.

Oliver says that 150 persons need to reside in an area before it can be incorporated, but adds that the legal wording is not specific when it comes to year-around residents or summer residents. His interpretation is that the number of residents is based on the number of registered voters in a prescribed area, of which there are currently 134 at Wallowa Lake. He sees getting 16 more people to register to vote in the area as "the smallest problem to confront" if the people in the area decide indeed that they wish to incorporate.

Twenty persons attended the first meeting at the Wallowa Lake home of Gail Swart while another dozen met in the courthouse basement last Friday. At the second meeting four committees were formed. They are to study the actual capacity of the existing sewer and water lines, the tax and assessment implications of incorporation, where the boundaries would be set and to develop an economic feasibility study.

One possible city boundary line that Oliver likes would be to duplicate the boundary of the Wallowa Lake County Service District and Wallowa Lake Rural Fire Protection District. This would not only include homes at the south end of Wallowa Lake, but those on the west bank on up to and including the City of Joseph's urban growth boundary. Other possibilities would include the south end alone or the south end plus west side homes.

The process for the committees is to gather data, draft a position paper, inform residents of their findings via direct mail, then hold public hearings. The same process was utilized in Flora, Imnaha, Minam and Troy. The final decision of whether or incorporate or not will ultimately be in the hands of the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners.

Advantages to Wallowa Lake residents for incorporation would include having more say in their own matters; a city jurisdiction instead of a county jurisdiction. Incorporated cities, too, are eligible to receive lottery dollars and gas tax dollars through grant and bond requests. They also receive liquor tax money and motel/hotel tax money.

The negative side of the equation is that city dwellers face the possibility of being taxed more readily, and some individuals would rather leave their fates in a larger form of government; i.e. county jurisdiction over small city jurisdiction.

Oliver noted that a name for the possible new city has yet to be discussed.

There are 900 land parcels at the south end of Wallowa Lake, the west side of the lake and in the Joseph urban growth boundary. At present less than 300 have been developed.

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