The rustic outhouse and pleasant park in Brogan are a welcome break for highway travelers, but community volunteers say they can't afford the upkeep anymore. (The Enterprise/LES ZAITZ)

BROGAN – The emergency in this rural community might not be apparent but it is very real to volunteers now turning to Malheur County for help.

One indication is in the city park along U.S. 26, where a portable toilet decorated as a rustic outhouse is closed. There is no money for monthly service.

“We can’t afford to keep it up,” said Rick Simmons, acting treasurer of the Brogan Community Society.

The society also needs money to pay the electricity for the community hall and for other maintenance needs.

“We’re getting to the point that we can’t sustain” the utility bill, Simmons said.

The problem is one of age and of finances.

The community hasn’t hosted some of its traditional events to bring in money. And the number of volunteers who can help is dwindling.

“Most of our old champions are dead,” Simmons said. He said he attended grade school in Brogan, left for work, and returned after he retired because “it was a good place to come back to.”

Census figures place the community’s population at 51 – down from the 90 or who listed Brogan as home in 2010.

As the society sees it, volunteers have been providing a public service for decades by keeping the park open as a rest stop for travelers. They’ve maintained the community hall for local events.

Simmons estimates that the Brogan Community Society needs roughly $20,000 to cover basic costs, such as cleaning out the park toilet and keeping lights on in community buildings.

And the society also wants to install a commercial grade kitchen in the community hall to serve meals. The nearest restaurant is the Willowcreek Store and Café, about 13 miles to the southeast. There is no place to eat going the other direction until Unity, about 40 miles away.

In August, the Brogan Community Society approached the Malheur County Court for help.

“Volunteers from Brogan and the surrounding area have for decades provided services to the local and traveling public in providing public rest stops, rest rooms, parks and community buildings,” its plea said.

“In the last decade,” it continued, “Brogan has lost most of its previous volunteer and donor champions.”

Brogan was founded in 1909 as the dream of an entrepreneur – Dennis Brogan – who envisioned the location to be an agricultural centerpiece. He has been long gone and the town is now a collection of homes, an RV park, a volunteer fire hall and a few other structures. A gas station and store once servicing travelers has been closed for years.

In its petition to the county court, the community society wrote it “declares an emergency” and asked if there were any pandemic relief funds that could be sent Brogan’s way.

It also asked if the county commissioners would serve up matching funds if the community society could obtain grants for its needs.

“This would seem a good use of current property tax dollars,” the society said. “Our area residents are already paying the tax.”

Two months later, the county commissioners responded but didn’t send a check.

Instead, they advised the society they weren’t aware of state funds that could help Brogan and they told the volunteers that the relief funds had to be used for Covid-related expenses.

They said relief funds could be used for parks if Brogan “saw significantly increased use” during the pandemic and could be used “to mitigate financial hardship from decline in revenues in order to pay for utilities (trash, rent, water, irrigation) and other operating costs.”

The commissioners said relief funding could pay for improving community facilities such as restrooms, benches and picnic tables.

“A loss of volunteers and donors over time or a delay of services in order for new members to take over is not Covid related,” the commissioners wrote.

They also said relief money couldn’t be used as a “replacement of loss revenue to Brogan Society because it was not able to hold fundraisers due to Covid.”

The commissioners noted that the county doesn’t have resources to take over maintenance of the Brogan park.

However, they said the county could provide matching funds for a grant.

“We ask that Brogan Community Society provide the county court with a specific matching amount, information and use for each grant.”

Simmons said the society is considering its next steps but was encouraged by the commissioners’ letter.

“They’re really responding in a wonderful way,” he said.

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM - Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for - day in and day out from the Enterprise.