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County officials face challenging new year

Photo courtesy of Matt Hall, Curry County Reporter Incumbent and newly-elected Curry County officials are sworn into office Monday by Judge Jesse Margolis (in black robe). County commissioners meet today to discuss fiscal challenges for 2013. Submitted photo
Photo courtesy of Matt Hall, Curry County Reporter Incumbent and newly-elected Curry County officials are sworn into office Monday by Judge Jesse Margolis (in black robe). County commissioners meet today to discuss fiscal challenges for 2013. Submitted photo

Two new Curry County Commissioners – Susan Brown and David Brock Smith – were sworn in Monday morning knowing they will face a myriad of challenges in their upcoming years of public service.

They were among other elected officials who gathered at the courthouse in Gold Beach to tackle the new – or in some cases, continuing – tasks in their respective positions. Brown will take the Position 3 seat, formerly occupied by Bill Waddle; Smith will take Position 2, formerly occupied by George Rhodes. Commissioner David Itzen remains on the board.

Brown said the day after she won the election against Greg Empson in November that she was excited to get to work – the next day. She beat Empson with 5,969 votes to his 3,389.

She said during her campaign that the county is filled with talented, knowledgeable people who are willing to work together toward financial stability and economic growth.

“That’s the time people want to step up and help,” Brown said Monday, when asked why anyone would want to address the monumental tasks ahead. “People have something to bring to the table; they want to give it a shot.”

Smith, who won his seat against Lucie La Bonté with 5,849 votes to her 4,344 votes, ran on a platform to bring Curry County politics back to the local level, particularly in the timber industry.

“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” Smith said. “I believe our future lies in diversifying the revenue portfolio, and as many plans as have been represented, we’re already getting to work on them.

“I believe we’ll forge a fantastic team for Curry County,” he added. “I’m really excited. We all bring different areas of knowledge to the board and are committed to the people of the county. I believe we’ll forge a fantastic team.”

The three commissioners face a daunting task; County Accountant Gary Short will give them an in-depth analysis of the county’s budgetary woes at 1:30 p.m. today (Jan. 9). Curry County faces a $3 million shortfall in the 2013-2014 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Rocky McVay, executive director of the Association of O&C Counties, said Monday Curry County could see between $300,000 and $350,000 from O&C revenues for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“That’s really a drop in the bucket,” Itzen said. “I mean, we’re grateful for any help we can get, and hopefully it will go through. If it does, it will come too late for us, and it’s only small fraction of what we need. We’re looking at shortfalls that will hit us in May. We’re short $3 million just to maintain our depleted levels as it is.”

Any tax would have to go to the voters.

“It is not a pretty picture,” Itzen said. “Time is running short if we want to put something on the May ballot; it has to be filed in March.”

What they would put on any ballot has yet to be determined, but it would likely be some kind of a revenue generator – a tax – to recoup the millions of dollars the county has lost for basic services.

The county has already “spun” off various departments to nonprofit organizations – health and human services to Curry Health, and the animal shelter to Pennies for Pooches, for example – making the county no longer liable for salaries, benefits and most notably, retirement payments. The county has half the employees it had in 2011 – losing some through attrition, spin-offs and retirement, but many to other counties where the financial outlook is more stable.

The federal government, urged by local and state lawmakers, has in past years loosened its purse strings, giving O&C timber counties funds, albeit, at smaller amounts than in the logging heyday. This year, however, it has indicated it won’t help themselves.”

The implication was directed at the anti-tax stance firmly entrenched in Oregon, and especially in Curry County, where some citizens don’t believe the county is as bad as officials say.

The federal government has said before it wouldn’t bail the O&C timber land counties out – creating complacency among the citizenry about the issue.

Other ways the county might pursue in kick-starting the economy could become more clear once the redundant Internet system is complete sometime this spring. Redundancy means service goes uninterrupted by those who use computers – businesses, banks, hospitals and others – even if a line is cut.

That has been a stumbling block for businesses interested in relocating to the area and of major interest to those who would like to see long-distance learning and real-time medical diagnoses available, among others.

Commissioners will also likely be involved in economic development discussion surrounding the airport in Brookings.

“Here we go,” Brown said. “It’s going to be interesting. We’re going to have to figure out where we’re going to go from here.” 

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