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News in Briefs: Burn bans and bank busts 

The Bend City Council hammered through a relatively full docket at its last meeting. Of interest was the narrow passage of a new ordinance that

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The Bend City Council hammered through a relatively full docket at its last meeting. Of interest was the narrow passage of a new ordinance that bans all outdoor yard waste burning - and not so much for its policy implications, but for the fact that it showed the council could, at least on one occasion, swing against its conservative majority. In this case Mayor Kathie Eckman, former mayor and councilor Oran Teater and freshman councilor Jeff Eager, all of whom have solid conservative credentials, opposed the burn ban.

This is also notable because the discussion originated with a request to increase the overall window for yard waste burning, which some longtime property owners with large, rural lots argued was necessary to help them efficiently dispose of their debris, i.e. pine needles. But over the past month or so, the debate was turned inside out when some of the other councilors began to explore the idea of an outright ban on burning. Supporters of the ban argued that the existing regulations - a combination of city guidelines, fire dept protocol and weather forecasting - were overly confusing. Additional recycling options also meant that residents had more options to dispose of their waste including free drop-off sites in the city and county. Meanwhile, burning proponents relied on a combination of nostalgia (Remember, the good 'ol days when... ) and the time tested "government bad" argument to make their case.

In the end, Tom Greene sided with the left-leaning block of councilors, including Jim Clinton, Jodie Barram, and Mark Capell in favor the ban.

Clinton, who was a strong supporter of the ban, said he would like the community to go one step further by pressuring the Forest Service to change its approach to controlled burns near Bend that can result in air pollution within the city limits.

"I'm not a big fan of the way the Forest Service managed the lands in proximity to Bend and what it does to air quality around here," he said. "But it's hard for the city to make a case when we allow it ourselves."

A Helping Handout

Perhaps to eliminate any confusion about the council's political leanings after the burn vote, members made sure to push through a second building fee deadline extension for developers, known as an SDC Deferral. The program allows developers to delay a good chunk of their permitting costs until they have an agreement with a buyer. The deferral was initially sold as a way to help local builders ride out the housing bust and resulting recession. But Clinton said it's starting to look a lot more like city policy, something that was actually discussed at the past meeting, he noted.

While nobody wants to add the woes of local contractors, Clinton said there's a strong rationale for requiring fees upfront. Namely that the city borrows against those promised dollars to fund necessary public works projects. When builders go bust and the money doesn't materialize, it's the city that gets left holding the bag, he said.

"If you allow these deferrals until later on, it's a slipper slope where you stand the chance of never getting paid," Clinton said.

Money In The Bank

Speaking of the housing bust fallout, state and federal regulators acted swiftly and boldly last Friday when they ordered the closure of Prineville-based Community First Bank, one of several local banks that had been badly wounded by the recession and housing bubble. The bank, which rode the housing wave right until it broke across the beach, had eight branches in Central Oregon and had grown rapidly over the past few years, posting record profits in 2006. But like other banks heavily invested in the local housing market, it had seen many of its loans slip into default as the national housing crises widened. According to the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates banks and other financial institutions in the state and ordered Community First's closure, the bank was heavily dependent on residential construction loans, "many of which were of poorer quality."

As a result the bank was experiencing, "critically low levels of capital," ultimately reaching insolvency, according to a DCBS press release.

It's, of course, not the only local bank to take a dive in the housing meltdown. Bank of the Cascades, once the darling of the local financial community, has seen its publicly traded stock plummet as its portfolio is battered.

The bank recently reported $28.1 million in loses for the second quarter of this year as it continues to write down bad debt - a roughly nine-fold increase from a year earlier. Regulators, meanwhile, are watching closely as the bank's capitalization ratio dipped below 10 percent for the first time, a key benchmark in the industry. Time to empty out those pillowcases.


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