GOLD BEACH – The Curry County Budget Committee on Thursday approved a budget taking $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013.
If they don’t transfer those funds, the county would go broke by March.
County commissioners are scheduled to formally adopt the budget on their last meeting of the fiscal year, scheduled for June 20.
County Accountant Gary Short had told the Budget Committee that the county needed to raise another $1.8 million for the general fund to stay solvent.
“There are a couple of things this year,” Short said. “First, we are not getting any more SRS (federal) payments. We expect to get some timber money, but a lot less – about 10 percent.”
He said that to make it on the money available, general fund departments would have to cut 35 percent. Most said they couldn’t do it with that and stay viable.
Short said the county’s current general fund budget is $5.1 million. It would have had approximately $3.4 million for the coming year.
The Legislature in February approved a bill that would allow Curry County to take $700,000 from the road fund to run sheriff’s patrols.
Commissioners were considering placing a 3 percent sales tax on a special election ballot, hoping that could be approved in time to complete the year. But with using those other funds, they have delayed that election.
After Commissioner Bill Waddle and Commissioner George Rhodes failed to make the runoffs following Tuesday’s Primary Election, they blamed it on their proposal for a new tax.
All other candidates had opposed more taxes.
The talk moved to not approving the additional funds so that voters will realize that the county would be broke.
“What’s left would keep us to 11 March, 2013. After that, we’re in cannibalization,” said Sam Scaffo, a lay member of the committee from Port Orford.
“Showing a year’s budget looking normal, it sends a signal of normal operations. But it’s anything but that case,” he said.
“I’m extremely frustrated that a large section of the people in Curry County have either consciously or unconsciously made a decision. They don’t want to receive or don’t believe what they’re hearing,” Waddle said.
“One of the reasons Mr. Waddle and I got defeated is we started talking about taxes,” Rhodes said.
“I’m going to ask the board to put a tax on the November ballot,” Commissioner David Itzen said.
“We can put something on the ballot, but it’s not going to pass. We have to come up with something else,” Rhodes said.
“You’ve got to give it a try. We’ll get out and push for it,” John Spicer of Gold Beach said.
He said taxpayers need to realize the county government will collapse without more income.
Tom Brand of Brookings said he felt that the vote in Tuesday’s election was a referendum on taxes.
“People who say we don’t need it, vote them in,” Brand said.
“Dead isn’t when you get to zero. Dead is when you cannibalize. That will be in March,” Scaffo said.
Waddle said that, by reducing the budget, it would make it easier to get people to vote for taxes when the county became dysfunctional.
Sheriff John Bishop joined the conversation.
“First of all, it’s not our job to make it easier to have people vote for tax increases. It’s not our decision. If they vote not to do it, they vote not to do it. It is not our job to make it easier or blackmail them to make this vote. It’s wrong. I can’t buy into this. But, businesswise, I do buy into this,” Bishop said.
“There’s no way we can continue to run county government on our present tax structure. There are numerous counties going under,” Bishop said. “We have to change. How, I don’t know. The federal government owns 68 percent of our land and was giving us most of our money. What are we going to do now in the present? Our taxes are not enough to run any kind of county government and make it functional.”
Bishop said Josephine County is going faster than Curry County.
In Tuesday’s election, that county rejected a tax increase. The sheriff immediately said he would be firing most of his patrol officers, the jail would be reduced from more than 100 beds to 30.
“I just talked to the sheriff. Their District Attorney says all misdemeanors will not be prosecuted. Domestic violence is not going to be prosecuted. We may want to watch this and see what happens over there for a year,” Bishop said.
“Safety is the number one reason government is formed. The first official elected in Oregon was a sheriff,” Bishop said.
“Make this county functional as long as possible. That is our job right now. We need to use the funds that we have to run county government as long as we can. If six months, six months. If eight months, eight months,” the sheriff said.
He said that Josephine County had nothing in the road fund.
“We had $38 million. We cannot pretend we don’t have that money. The government of the state has given us access to that. I’m not saying use it 10 years. I’m saying one year we run it. It allows us to keep county government for one year,” Bishop said. “When I left, we had it to run through June 30, 2013. If we don’t do that, having that money left on the board, what liability does that leave the county for not using all we have to run the county?” Bishop said.
Waddle said he is sure the voters right now will not vote for a tax.
“Let the state come down and take over. I’m comfortable with that position,” he said.
“It’s a new board come January,” Waddle said. “If they want to make changes, obviously they’ll have authority to do that.”