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Harney County Court discusses economic development


Economic development was a major topic of discussion during the regular meeting of the Harney County Court on June 7.

Harney County Judge Pete Runnels said a scope of work for the Harney County Economic Development director position was developed and sent out to the cities of Burns and Hines for comments.

Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh explained that the scope of work was formulated with input from the court, cities, merchants, and ranchers.

“I did a lot of calling people and talking to people and put together a draft scope of work based on that. I ran it by the county court members. They looked at it and made some minor changes. I put it back out to the cities, and they have until Friday [June 9] to give any comments,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to do it right because the consensus seems to be [that] we need a multifaceted, comprehensive approach.”

Dorroh added that the court will put out a request for proposals (RFP) in hopes of finding an individual or entity that can do this work.

Runnels acknowledged that there’s been some interest from economic development offices outside of Harney County and stated that he wants there to be a local presence and office.

“I don’t want somebody trying to serve us two or three days a week and be gone,” he said, adding that, “If it’s an outside source, we want them to have an understanding and a knowledge of Harney County — the ag base, everything that makes Harney County Harney County.”

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens asked whether the current office, which is located in the Harney County Chamber of Commerce building, will still be available. Runnels said he will ask.

Runnels added that he’d like to have the RFP out by June 15 and make a hiring decision in July.

Dorroh said she is hosting invitational meetings to gather information from targeted groups. The first meeting (held June 8) focused on agriculture and industry, the second (June 15) will look at main street business and tourism, the third (June 22) will be centered around housing and infrastructure, and the final meeting (June 29) will explore small business and workforce issues.

Regarding economic development, Owens said, “We’re just looking for a different model.”

“One person can’t do this job,” Runnels said, adding that a more collaborative approach is being taken with input from the community.

“The scope is going to be a lot larger,” Owens said. “We’re not dissatisfied with what has happened in the past, but we needed a different model for the future.”

Later in the meeting, members of the public shared some of their ideas for economic development in Harney County.

Marjorie Thelen expressed the need for a convention venue that can accommodate large groups as well as smaller “break out” groups.

She also discussed how the arts could bolster economic development.

Rick Paul asserted that Harney County should take advantage of the fact that Lean on Pete was filmed in the area.

Housing and fiber optics were also topics of discussion.


The court revisited its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County. Current strategies include developing a self-insurance program and getting the levee certified.

Runnels reported that the court is seeking funding for a feasibility study that would explore how to get the levee to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency certification requirements. The court applied for a grant through Business Oregon, but the application was denied.

Runnels explained, “The application we put in with Business Oregon for a feasibility study does not fit any of their guidelines, but if [we] were going to do a levee certification request, they have a section for that. So it’s a wording thing.”

However, Runnels added that Business Oregon may be developing a new program that will fit with the court’s objective.

The court also discussed flood mapping. Runnels said three, new, temporary gauges have been placed in various places to help understand the flow.


Harney County Assessor/Tax Collector Ted Tiller presented a letter that he and Harney County District Attorney Joseph Lucas signed requesting the cancellation of property taxes that have been deemed uncollectable in accordance with Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 311.790.

One of the cancellations is for $526.81 in business personal property assets for Harney County Radio LLC, which has ceased to exist. The assets are no longer located at the business site. The equipment was either sold or removed prior to the current property owners taking control of the real property. There are no assets to lien or seize in lieu of the taxes.

The second cancellation is for $90.57 of taxes for a single-wide manufactured structure that has been abandoned, damaged beyond repair, and is unlivable. Owners of the mobile home park plan to tear the structure down to its frame.

Tiller explained that property is usually seized when taxes are unpaid. However, in both of these cases, there isn’t any property to seize. He added that the county wouldn’t benefit from leaving the taxes on the roll because the payments will never be received.

The court agreed to approve a court order in the matter of cancellation of personal property taxes per ORS 311.790.


In other business, the court:

• opened a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the matter of donating county-owned property to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center.

The goal is to turn the house, which was foreclosed upon, into habitable rental property that would be managed by the Senior Center’s limited liability company.

There being no public comment, the public hearing was closed at 11:30 a.m.;

• agreed to allow county employees the option of investing in the Oregon Savings Growth Plan;

• appointed Sophie M. Corden to the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization Local Community Advisory Committee;

• reviewed and approved  the revised/updated pages of the Emergency Operations Plan;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received copies of the letters that Gary S. Miller of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Rob Jones of the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote regarding the stocking of salmon into the Malheur River.

“When they stocked the salmon into the Malheur River…there was great concern that [the salmon] would be considered back to native status and that endangered species could creep up and cause further issues, problems years down the road,” Runnels said. “We wanted to have something in the record to go back to to protect folks that graze or have other uses on the forest,” he said, adding that this is the best letter that he’s found;

• received correspondence from Steve Beverlin, forest supervisor for the Malheur National Forest, regarding the Summit Creek Landscape Restoration Project;

• will hold a public hearing at the Riley School Wednesday, June 14, from 5:30-7 p.m.;

• will hold a public hearing at the Diamond School Tuesday, June 20, from 5:30-7 p.m.;

• learned that Owens will attend a meeting regarding the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision June 19;

• learned from Thelen that the Democratic Party of Oregon will be holding its quarterly meeting in Harney County June 24-25;

• opened a public hearing of the budget committee at 1:30 p.m. to approve the budget.

After some discussion, the budget hearing was closed at 2:12 p.m., and the 2017-18 budget was approved.

A public hearing to adopt the budget will be held Wednesday, June 21, at 1:15 p.m. at the courthouse.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, June 21, at 10 a.m. at the courthouse.

Samantha White

Samantha White was born and raised in Harney County, and she graduated from Burns High School in 2005. After high school, she attended the University of Oregon where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism. White was hired as a reporter for the Burns Times-Herald in September 2012.

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