Curry County commissioners are urging the public to attend a special meeting Nov. 20, where they will hear comments regarding the transfer of four county-owned properties to nonprofit organizations.
The plan – part of the county’s efforts to downsize government in light of the dire fiscal situation it faces – is that the nonprofit organizations will then take over the duties of those county departments and operate from those buildings.
Divestiture of the largest of these departments, Health and Human Services (HHS), will result in an overall reduction of 50 percent of county staff since 2011. That transition is hoped to be finished by the end of the year. The services of that department will now be operated under the auspices of the nonprofit Curry Community Health.
The four buildings include the Hammond House and the MINDS Clubhouse in Gold Beach, and buildings at 517 Railroad Street and 438 Pine Street in Brookings.
The two Brookings properties were foreclosed upon after the homeowner failed to pay taxes; they then reverted to county ownership. County attorney Jerry Herbage said the taxing districts owed past monies and the new owners – in this case, the nonprofits – are responsible for dealing with the financial details surrounding the foreclosures.
The Hammond House will continue to provide housing and services to people with mental health issues, and the MINDS Clubhouse, associated with Hammond House, will continue as a social meeting place for those clients.
The office on Railroad Street will also continue to offer mental health and addictions and public health services.
The house on Pine Street might be used for housing the county’s VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) intern, or for temporary housing for new county employees until they find a permanent place to live.
“The only thing that will change will be the letterhead,” said Jan Kaplan, director of Health and Human Services. “If we don’t pull this off (and services remain with the county), services would be reduced. We almost certainly would have to plan layoffs.”
Another issue that must be addressed is a 30-year contract the county has with the state housing agency that administers federal HUD monies that operate the Hammond House.
Federal and state agencies contributed $599,000 in 1998 to get the Hammond House operating, and contractual stipulations require the county to reimburse all the money if they discontinue that use there.
“Ownership,” Kaplan said, “comes with obligations.”
The county – and when transferred, the nonprofit – has 16 years left in that contract.
“We invite (county commissioner) candidates to address this, too,” said Commissioner Bill Waddle, at a special meeting Wednesday. “I’ve heard rumblings that people are really opposed to the transfer of Health and Human Services. We’ll have severe financial implications at the county if we continue to maintain these.”
The 40 or so employees of HHS will be transferred with the department, eliminating the county’s liability with retirement and health insurance benefits.
“I have worked almost four years to not only maintain these services, but to maintain local control,” said Commissioner George Rhodes. “We’ll have no control if we don’t make the transition; the control would be from the state. I’d like to see someone with a better plan; I’d be more than willing to hear it.”
In the past two years, the county has spun off the animal shelter to Pennies for Pooches as well as the Home Health and Hospice department. Health and Human Services and the Commission on Children and Families are in the process, as well.
And the Developmental Disabilities Services was relinquished to the state, which in turn contracted it with a nonprofit in Coos and Josephine counties.
“There’s not many departments left,” Kaplan said. “You can’t have a nonprofit sheriff’s department, you can’t privatize the county road department. Those are the major county departments left.”
Kaplan said the county would take on a $1 million liability – mostly for retirement and health insurance costs – if it were to retain the HHS department, and that would only be reduced by $100,000 if it were relinquished to the state.
“If you didn’t transition, you’d have to downsize the county dramatically,” he said, adding that retirement alone costs the county about $30,000 a month. “There is no way to maintain services and pay that.”
Non-profit organizations can also get monies not available to the government, notably grants and lines of credit that can be used as collateral. And, Kaplan added, the new Curry Community Health has a seven-member board representing each city in the county and an array of professional expertise.
“It is a talented and dedicated board,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard to pull together what could have taken a long time. We’re in good hands.”
“This is what needs to happen,” said Commissioner David Itzen. People aren’t going to lose their jobs. They’re still employed, they’re using the services in the county, their kids are in schools. They’ll still be positive members of the community. I commend the effort.”
Rhodes expressed his frustration at getting the public to attend meetings at which such questions can be answered.
“We’ve held a number of meetings on very important topics, and very few people show up,” he said. “People rely on hearsay and misinformation. If the people are not willing to participate in their government, they’re going to continue to get the government they have today. Frankly, they deserve it.”