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COUNTY OFFICIALS EXPECT CUTS, LAYOFFS

By BILL LUNDQUIST

Pilot Staff Writer

GOLD BEACH – Proposed cuts in the budget of the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) drew comments from members of Curry County's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) Monday.

Richard Whitewer, in charge of service delivery for the Coos/Curry district of the DHS, explained how $162 million in cuts would affect Curry County if Ballot Measure 28 fails on January 28. (see related story)

Curry County Human Services Director Deb Wilson said, "These people had hardly anything to get by on. Now they have none. They will be coming to see us."

Worse yet, said Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont, "I've heard that some folks want to do away with the Oregon Health Plan."

Gold Beach Police Chief Bob Rector said, "When people are losing their benefits, they will become more volatile in the community. They can only go to jail."

He urged LPSCC members to fight to keep transportation dollars coming so those people could be brought to the right facilities.

"We never had any transport dollars," said Wilson.

Terry Bell, in charge of Curry County's Addictions Program, said even if people in crisis are brought to hospitals and other facilities, they are returned to the community after 10 days, with no further treatment.

La Bont said, "There is no way these cuts won't affect the Sheriff's Department and police."

Capt. Mark Metcalf, who runs the county jail, said the jail population is already at maximum, so someone will have to be let out to let anyone else in.

Circuit Court Judge Hugh C. Downer said the Judicial Department will have to make cuts too.

He said if Measure 28 doesn't pass, or possibly even if it does, a 10 percent work reduction plan for court staff will go into effect Mar. 1.

He said the court staff would then work four nine-hour days a week, meaning the courts would be closed on Fridays.

As a result, said Downer, small claims cases and non-person misdemeanors would not be processed until at least July 1, when the new budget takes effect.

He said the work reduction wouldn't mean laying off staff members from the courts in Curry County.

"We haven't filled a position in a long time," said Downer.

He said the indigent defense fund that pays court-appointed attorneys will be exhausted by April 1. He said the work reduction could also raise speedy-trial issues.

"The judges will be here on Fridays," said Downer, "but without a staff, I don't know what we'll do."

He said there have been cuts in the last two legislative sessions, but nothing like this.

"We will definitely have to cut back services," said Downer.

"It sounds like the wild west is coming," said La Bont.

She said that is why former Oregon governors Vic Atiyeh and Neil Goldschmidt are backing Measure 28.

The problem, said La Bont, is that voters don't understand who will be taxed, whether it will be low or high income individuals, or corporations.

She said some oppose it because they believe increasing corporate taxes will hurt the economy. Others, she said, simply don't want to pay taxes.

If the measure fails, she said, the DHS will shut down programs within three days of the election.

Whitewer said he would have to lay off 13 employees, about 10 percent of his local staff.

Wilson said she would lose six of her 35 employees. She said she is facing a 16 percent budget cut now and 11 percent more in October.

"For us," said Whitewer, "all bets are off for the next biennium. Each economic forecast is adding onto the $1 billion state deficit. The legislators have a big job ahead of them."

He said the DHS is working on transition plans with seniors, people with disabilities, and the mentally ill, people who may panic when the budget cuts come.

He said after watching the polls and getting advice from the Governor's Office, he is not optimistic that Measure 28 will pass.

Bing Barmore, who runs Curry County's Corrections Division, said the Oregon Department of Corrections is facing a $28 million budget cut for the remainder of the fiscal year, and a $33 million cut for next year.

"We're looking at tough times," she said. "The cuts will be in personnel."

Curry County Juvenile Director Roger Langlie said he will lose about $8,000 in juvenile crime prevention funding.

He said the Oregon Youth Authority will face major cuts. Curry County's juvenile bed allocation at the Rogue Valley facility will be cut in half.

"There will be a loss of shelter services around the state," he warned.

"Kids (juvenile offenders) won't be supervised, and more will come home."

Downer said that even before the last special legislative session, the Oregon State Police were looking at cutting all officers with five years of service or less. He said the Gold Beach station could lose three.

Wilson said, "We will have to double-staff our crisis triage area."

"The whole community justice system," said Metcalf, "Human Services and the rest, will have to look at alternatives or do business differently."

"It's sobering, if not downright depressing," said Brookings-Harbor School District Superintendent Paul Prevenas.

"Our problems, bad as they may be, are not as bad as those of community justice," he said. "It's frustrating after we have fought so hard to make schools safer places."

Among the victims of budget cuts, said Rector, is the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team (SCINT), which lost its prosecutor after a funding levy failed in Coos County.

He said SCINT is not dead yet, though it is down to three staff members. He said the SCINT steering committee will meet Dec. 11 to discuss options.

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