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Curry, state officials discuss fate of counties

 

GOLD BEACH – Curry County officials told the Joint Legislative Task Force on County Payments that they were able to use one of three special bills approved this year to keep the county solvent for one year, but they see nothing to keep the county going beyond that.

“We used House Bill 4175, which allowed us to use $700,000 of road funds to fund our deputies and looked at other opportunities to create a budget that gets us through next fiscal year,” Commissioner George Rhodes told the committee through a teleconference call on Tuesday.

 

The Task Force met in Salem and talked to two other county commissioners from O&C counties at the meeting, while Curry County officials and a commissioner from Josephine County attended by telephone.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the implementation of House Bill 4175 (road funds), House Bill 4176 (Fiscal Assistance Board), and House Bill 4177 (tax collection assistance).

The three Curry County commissioners, Sheriff John Bishop and Assessor-Tax Collector Jim Kolen participated in the meeting.

Rhodes told the task force that Curry County could not afford to use the fiscal assistance board because it didn’t have enough money. Officials from the Department of Administrative Services told Curry County it would cost the county at least $75,000 and as much as $150,000 to have officials come down to the county and discuss shared services.

“We had no money for that,” Rhodes told the legislators.

Bishop told the lawmakers that HB4175 allowed the county to maintain some road patrols for a year.

“We were looking at shutting the whole patrol down,” he said, leaving only the two marine patrols paid for by the state and himself.

“The bad guys read the paper. They know what’s going on,” Bishop said.

He said he worries about the drug cartels without someone there to slow them down.

Kolen said that HB4176 would allow his office to do its work by getting the 20 percent of funds to assess and collect taxes that the state furnishes.

But, he said, that bill only provides funding if the county does not cut more than 15 percent of its staff for those purposes.

“We’ve made a 13 percent cut, but it’s still subject to Department of Revenue review,” Kolen said.

“I spoke to them a week or so ago. They’re very concerned about the level of resources we’re allowing for assessment and taxation,” he said.

“The Department of Revenue wants to come in to do an audit where we’re at,” Kolen said.

“At the level we are at, we are having issues, taking shortcuts, putting this off. Things by law we’re required to do, we aren’t doing,” Kolen said.

The commissioners were asked if they had asked the Association of Oregon Counties for help in getting the $75,000 they would have needed to use HB4176.

“We were in constant contact with AOC,” Commissioner David Itzen said. 

He said they were told that there might be some money, perhaps from the state emergency fund, for that help.

“After that, we never did hear from anyone volunteering to help us out,” Itzen said.

The commissioners then told the legislators they had a suggestion of something that might help Curry County.

That is to change the state laws to allow the county to charge taxing districts for the work the county does in assessing and collecting taxes for them. There are more than 50 special districts in Curry County.

“The issue for our citizens, if we put something out there, it will likely not be supported if it’s a tax issue,” Rhodes said.

He said two incumbent commissioners have failed to advance from the primary election because they supported a tax.

“They take for granted the money will come from somewhere else,” he said.

He said the authority to bill for services could help the county.

“In Curry County, there’s no way to get a tax initiative to get a tax. It’s not going to happen,” Rhodes said. “This is the opportunity for the Legislature to do something to help us.”

Josephine County Commissioner Simon Hare told lawmakers that his constituents just rejected a property tax levy that would have prevented the release of prisoners and the loss of jobs in the sheriff’s office.

Rep. Bruce Hanna, co-speaker of the House, said the legislation that has helped Curry and other counties was intended to be only a temporary solution. 

“The fix,” he said, “is to harvest these forests.” 

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