Curry County Commissioner David Itzen said he’d like to tell everyone all is well with county government, he said in his annual State of the County Address on Dec. 19.
“That would be a complete distortion of reality and disingenuous at best,” he said. “Curry County is at a crossroads. It is operating with a skeleton workforce. Many county services are not funded, and those that are, are done so without a full complement of employees.”
He continued to tell a standing-room-only crowd what many have heard time and again: The county will be more than $3 million in the red, and that county services – already drastically cut, laid-off and spun-off – will have to be cut another 65 percent and public safety will become completely compromised unless there is some kind of fiscal bailout by next July.
“The county will become dysfunctional,” he said.
The county is facing its own fiscal abyss because the federal government has said it will not bail out the county with money it used to give it from O&C timber revenue. County commissioners have pointed out that the federal government has said that before – and then continued to provide stopgap measures, thus lulling voters into complacency about the county’s solvency.
Itzen cited examples of employees being laid off or leaving for counties that offer better pay, or because of Curry’s fiscal uncertainty come July 1, 2013, when the fiscal year begins anew. The courthouse is 50 years old, has no central heat or air and its roof is in “catastrophic” condition.
Curry County is taxed, yet its citizens consistently refuse to increase their property tax rate – 59 cents on $100,000 assessed value – the second lowest in the state. The state average is $2.81.
Sheriff John Bishop again made a plea to support his department, which spends the bulk of the county’s money.
“When you’re paying for law enforcement, you need to understand what you’re paying for,” he said. “We had the shooting in Clackamas Towne Square, then Newtown, Conn. People say, ‘It’s not going to happen here.’ In the last two days, we had an attempted armed robbery, today, a shooting.”
The shooting he was referring to was in Brookings, where a man walking his dog shot another dog that charged him. The injured dog was treated by a veterinarian and sent home; the man who shot it was issued a citation.
“We’re starting to see that trend,” Bishop said, discounting accusations of fear mongering. “If it scares you, it ought to. If it doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.”
He said the sheriff’s office was never established to make the county money – and indeed, will spend it.
“What do you pay for?” he asked. “You pay for when we’re holding a child that’s been severely injured or dying so we can tell the parents the body was treated with dignity. We go into the forest to find lost loved ones. We go to traffic accidents and pick up body parts. We deal with suicide.
“Throughout the jail, we deal with feces, urine, being thrown at us. Mental illness, agitated individuals spitting at us all the time. It takes a physiological, psychological damage to our bodies to do this job. But I love this profession. That’s why I chose it.
“We have to do something to save this county. If you want to stick your heads in the sand, you can do that. But we have significant hurdles we have to overcome.”
The new Curry County Board of Commissioners will hear much of the same – and more – at a Jan. 9 workshop being held to bring them up to speed on the details of the county budget.
The new board, to include incumbent David Itzen, and commissioners-elect David Brock Smith and Susan Brown, will be sworn in Jan. 7