By Emily Jo Cureton
Plenty of people live paycheck to paycheck. Governments generally don’t.
But with 35 percent less money to fund county services this year, Curry County is going broke fast. Unless officials can drum up revenues through voter-approved tax hikes, an Oregon state takeover of services is possible by November.
On Monday, Del Norte County supervisors met with Curry County commissioners to discuss potential partnerships for regional prosperity, community development and resource management in the face of economic hardship.They agreed to meet more regularly, form a committee to volley ideas and invite more partners to the table, including Coos County.
The neighborly feelings expressed on both sides were couched in hard realities.
“If you go under, it’s going to impact us. And it should be able to impact us in a good, sharing way,” said District 5 Supervisor David Finigan.
Until recently, Curry County collected 65 percent of its operating budget and 61 percent of its road budget through federal funding authorized by the Secure Rural Schools Act.
This legislation, enacted to compensate counties for federal lands taken out of timber production and off the local property tax rolls, has not been reauthorized since it expired last year.
The same type of funding source is meted out in very differently in California, accounting for about 1 percent of Del Norte County’s budget. The county Roads Department and the Del Norte Unified School District split a $2 million allotment.
Temporary, reduced payments were approved by the Senate through the transportation bill, but haven’t been voted on in the House of Representatives.
It’s unlikely any kind of funding extension will make it past the president’s desk before the November election, several officials noted Monday.
The timing could be critical.
“If you get paid in October or November, how are you going to sustain yourself, Curry County?” Finigan asked.
Curry County Commissioner George Rhodes said that the depletion of reserves means that one unexpected incident could be a tipping point for county finances.
Supervisor Martha McClure suggested Del Norte contract an analyst to calculate both the direct and indirect costs losing this funding will have for both communities, as a way of showing legislators the full scope of what’s at stake.
Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen agreed: “We need to put that out there, we have no place to replace those funds,” he said.
Curry County commissioners are planning a special election, probably Aug. 7, to present a proposed 3 percent sales tax to Curry County voters. If that fails, they expect another tax measure to go on the November general election ballot, either another try at the sales tax or a property tax.
Current property taxes and fees collected by the county would leave general fund revenue at just over $2 million by fiscal year 2013-14. The Sheriff’s Department now receives about $2.4 million from the general fund a year, Commissioner Bill Waddle told the Curry Coastal Pilot in March.
– The Curry Coastal Pilot contributed to this report.