GOLD BEACH – Wendy Willis of National Policy Consensus Center has met with Curry County Commission Chair David Itzen to discuss using Oregon’s Kitchen Table as a mechanism to get county residents thinking about the county budget and revenue-generating options such as a tax.
“It’s very clear they are interested in seeing if this is successful in Curry County and if it could work in other counties,” Itzen said. “It’s clear there’s an interest if this process will be successful in Curry County.”
Willis Met with Itzen and a few residents he invited in the Commissioners’ hearing room at the county annex building.
“It was a good discussion,” he said. “There were some good ideas discussed. It was apparent this group is interested in meeting with our county’s citizens.”
Commissioners said two weeks ago they would work with Portland State University’s Kitchen Table project to determine what kind of tax proposal county voters will see to help keep the county solvent.
Itzen said then that the board wants to make sure the citizens understand what is needed and what it will take to keep the county afloat before putting something on the ballot for the November general election.
“We want to see what kind of tax it will take to get $5 million,” Itzen said.
But Itzen said Monday that Willis, in the meeting last week, thought it might be better to wait until next March to hold such an election.
“The March ballot might be better,” Itzen said.
He said that with new requirements by the Secretary of State for such ballots, information for the ballot would have to be sent to the state soon.
“It now requires almost 80 days for a review by the Secretary of State,” he said. “We would have to have it to the Secretary of State by Aug. 20. We would about have to schedule a commissioners’ meeting to consider the matter and have two readings. We would almost have to have that ready by the first week of August. We’re already in July.”
Itzen said that Friday’s meeting was useful.
“We all agreed to continue working with each other if the funding is available,” he said.
Itzen said the project would cost about $40,000, with the Oregon Community Foundation providing $25,000 and the National Policy Consensus Center another $15,000 from other sources.
Willis said Tuesday that what has been discussed is an initial process and a tentative program. She noted the funding is not yet in place.
In a memo to Itzen, Willis said she thought the project could be helpful.
“I think Oregon’s Kitchen Table might be very helpful to you and the Commission in ensuring that the citizenry has a baseline understanding of the budget, the required expenditures, and the options for revenue,” she wrote.
“Oregon’s Kitchen Table is a statewide, online tool to engage Oregonians in complex public policy issues. Because it is online, we can provide a good deal of information to citizens and then walk them through a series of questions about expenditures, cuts, and ultimately revenue,” she wrote.
“That process in many ways replicates the process you went through with your citizen committee, except it is available to every resident of Curry County. I have attached an exercise that one of our partners conducted on the federal budget. As you can see, it is much more detailed than the Curry County budget would need to be, but the citizens were quite capable of going through the consultation,” she wrote.
“I would propose that we do a series of in-person meetings in Curry County (either ourselves or through a partner) to introduce the topic, get residents signed up for the online system, answer questions, etc., and then we would essentially do a ‘campaign’ to try to get as many residents as possible to participate. If you need additional sampling to ensure that a representative sample participates, we can do that as well,” Willis wrote.
“That type of process would give you three things: 1) good quality public opinion research; 2) an opportunity to inform the public on the realities of the budget situation; and 3) a mechanism to broadly engage the citizenry,” she wrote.
Itzen noted commissioners two weeks ago approved a letter to Max Williams, president and CEO of Oregon Community Foundation of Portland, officially requesting the grant and help from Kitchen Table.
“Curry County is one of the most hard-hit counties in Oregon because of the loss of timber revenues, and we face catastrophic public sector budget cuts in fiscal year 2013-2014,” the letter says.
It says that the county has already made deep budget cuts resulting in widespread loss of basic services.
“As we look to the future, we want to have a solid conversation with and among the citizens of our county before we proceed to the ballot with a proposed tax increase,” the letter says.
It says commissioners are considering seeking some type of tax authorization from the voters.
“However, we must work toward a goal of providing Curry County citizens with a basic understanding of county services and the budgetary needs of the county. We also need to have a deeper knowledge of the values and opinions of the citizenry,” it says.
Itzen said that Oregon Community Foundation is interested because of the number of counties in trouble.
“They have 18 counties getting ready to go under,” Itzen said. “Eight are on the edge. Josephine County is already under, Lane County is going under and we’re right behind.”
He said Curry County would be sort of a laboratory for the project.
For part of this, he said the Kitchen Table will ask the Ford Foundation for permission to use the approximately 70 community leaders who have taken their community leader courses to help in getting the county’s woes out to its citizens.