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COUNTY STRUGGLES WITH BUDGET TROUBLE

GOLD BEACH Curry Countys first quarterly budget hearing showed that most departments are right on track with their fiscal year 2001-02 budgets.

The county is still suffering, however, from mistakes made in the last fiscal year. County Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said the county ended up with $152,455 less cash carry-over than expected.

More than half of that shortfall, $76,393, came from the Community Justice Department disbanded in January by commissioners Schafer, Lucie La Bont and Cheryl Thorp.

The county wont have to cut the full amount from its current budget, however. Schafer said Curry County received $28,337 more from the Federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes program than it anticipated. It also received $35,939 more than budgeted from the Western Oregon Severance Tax.

Adding those into last years budget reduces this years shortfall to $88,179.

Schafer said the commissioners would wait to see what they actually get in federal O&C funds before deciding what to do about the deficit.

Maybe in January we will have to make some big cuts, said Schafer. We might as well address it when we know exactly how far out (the budget) is.

Schafer warned of another problem. She said O&C funds usually arrive at the end of September, but wont show up until Nov. 15 this year.

The countys property tax payments will also not arrive before then, so Schafer asked department heads to be careful right now.

The good news after seven hours of budget hearings was that most departments had received and spent about 25 percent of their budgeted revenues and expenses since the fiscal year began July 1.

The budget printout didnt show revenues received after Sept. 30, so that usually explained any shortfalls.

Besides the commissioners, budget committee members Scott McKenzie and Linda Brown attended the meeting.

First under the gun was Sheriff Kent Owens. Before delving into his current budget, Schafer thanked him for coming out of last year with a $40,010 surplus.

You did a great job, she said. Thank you very much.

Owens credited Capt. Mark Metcalf. He manages our budget and does it well.

Schafer said, Weve got good people with good budgeting skills. That will keep us on track.

Most departments exceeded their insurance budgets and Schafer said the estimates the county gave to its department heads were too low.

The departments had also spent much of their supply budgets for the year already, but Owens said that was to be expected.

He and others maximize their purchasing power by buying most of their supplies for the entire year at one time.

Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf questioned Owens about spending more than 54 percent of his Marine Patrol salary budget so far, but he said that was because of the irregular employee who works in the summer.

Owens said revenues would be down in the Forest Patrol because some private landowners dropped out of the program. La Bont said she would see if that could be made up with federal Title 3 funds.

In the Corrections Division, Owens had already spent 30 percent of what he budgeted for doctors, but he said he couldnt control those costs.

Its a major headache, he said of medical care for those in jail. He said inmates lose their Oregon Health Plan benefits.

Schaaf asked if the county could get health insurance for inmates, but Owens said everyone with major medical bills would want to get into jail.

The Adult Parole and Probation division, half of the old Community Justice Department, had received 24 percent of its revenues, which supervisor Bing Barmore said was in the ballpark.

She said revenues should rise once the judges gain renewed confidence in the division and assign more cases to community corrections.

She said more revenue could be generated from charging people for their own court-ordered weekly drug screening.

Can we help build the courts confidence? said Schaaf.

No, said Barmore. Theyll react to a job well done. We have a united goal: the care and custody of offenders. That confidence has been severed, but we will earn their trust.

Barmore said the county Work Center is on target for revenue. She said it had averaged about nine inmates at a time during the last three years, but is now operating at capacity.

She said it may generate more revenue by opening a commissary similar to the one at the jail.

Next up was Home Health/ Hospice, which is recovering its fiscal health. It ended last year with a budget deficit of $350,000 because of billing problems with Medicare and Medicaid.

Director Lori Kent said the shortfall may have actually been $282,525.

Schafer said the Human Services and Public Health departments also have huge accounts receivable.

Because revenues often come in months after the auditors cut-off date, county Accounting Manager Geoff Buchheim has come up with a better way to track payments internally.

He said he could post payments to the past fiscal year as they came in. Then the commissioners and department heads could talk about which accounts receivable to write off.

Schafer said if those payments did come in later, they could be added back in as unanticipated revenue.

Kent said the average turnaround on billing is three to four months, but it can be much longer.

Its a full-time job arguing with Medicare as to how they want it to look on paper, she said.

Kent said Medicare is still dealing with quirks in its new system, but her revenues and expenditures are in good shape. She said revenues exceed expenditures by $375,000 right now, but that will even out as the year goes on.

Kent said the only problem is she didnt budget enough for computer hardware and software. She may need double the $40,000 she budgeted for, and is looking for a grant to make up the difference.

The Public Services Department was right on track after raising fees to hire an additional building inspector.

Director Chuck Nordstrom said he was also able to get more from coastal zone management grants.

He originally thought his department would receive $36,000, but a plan to distribute the grants by population threatened to reduce that to $20,000.

He said after he whined about Curry County having the longest stretch of coastline in Oregon, along with several important ports, the grant was more than restored, and now stands at $52,000.

The Human Services Department budget was still suffering from what Director Deb Wilson called a real screw-up last year.

The department was double-paid with developmental disabilities advance payments. When one of the payments had to be given back, it left the department with $169,292 less in working capital than projected.

Schafer said, Everyone has a lot better handle on money now. Theres better communication. We can track it better.

Wilson said the same thing happened this year, but was detected right away.

She met the shortfall by cutting and restructuring her department. She hired a case manager instead of a therapist, cut funds for hospitalizations, and hired replacements into lower level positions. Instead of hiring a receptionist, she formed a clerical pool.

You made some real budget cuts, said McKenzie. In the past, people just raised their anticipated revenues.

We wont accomplish everything wed hoped to this year, said Wilson.

Good job, said McKenzie, you got on top of it.

Wilson said the real problem is in mental health. The crisis system is so maxed-out right now.

Schafer said, Mental health programs throughout the state are so overloaded. Its showing up in lots of states. She wondered if the terrorist attacks had some effect.

People who were a little paranoid are now a lot paranoid, said Wilson.

She said the bigger problem is that Multnomah County closed its crisis center, but hasnt yet opened the satellite centers that were supposed to replace it. The result is a statewide shortage in bed space.

The 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week crisis system is exploding, said Wilson. Our employees are going out to the emergency room every night.

She said they must evaluate whether patients are a danger to themselves or others, and coordinate transport.

It takes two to four hours every night, she said. Its way more than we have ever done.

Are you going to be able to hold the line? said Brown.

Theres no guarantee, said Wilson. We did all we could with salaries. Now were trying to hold down costs in other areas.

We dont have the revenue to backfill self-supporting programs, said Schafer. Its tough. How do we turn people away? It costs more to turn them away. If they end up in jail, its still a drain on our general fund.

Its a community problem, said Wilson. With no psychiatric facility in Curry County, she said, mental health funds flow out of the county. The patients also get no continuity of care.

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