GOLD BEACH – Curry County has received the full grant needed to have Portland State University’s Kitchen Table project brought to here to work with local community leaders to get a tax proposal approved by voters to help keep the county solvent.
Curry County Commission Chair David Itzen said at a special commission meeting Tuesday that he had learned that the full grant has been approved. Previously, the National Policy Consensus Center had asked that the county pay part of the expected $40,000 the project will cost.
“We don’t have the full details yet,” Itzen said. “They will come forward with a work plan. We did receive the funding. That’s a good thing, I think.”
He said the grant funding comes from two to three sources.
Meanwhile, the commissioners will have a discussion on the Kitchen Table project at their regular meeting Aug. 22.
The commissioners got a proposal from the Kitchen Table project leaders in June, who wondered if the county was interested in having them come down and hold some convention online.
Then, commissioners approved a letter to Max Williams, president and CEO of Oregon Community Foundation of Portland, officially requesting the grant.
Wendy Willis of National Policy Consensus Center then met with Itzen to discuss using Oregon’s Kitchen Table as a mechanism to get county residents thinking about the county budget and revenue options.
“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.”
Commissioners had earlier considered placing a county sales tax or a property tax levy on the November ballot, but they decided neither would have enough support to pass. Kitchen Table leaders felt that would be too early, leaving not enough time to get the message across to voters. Besides, with new rules, it is too late to get such a measure on the November ballot.
Recent discussion has revolved around either a special election next March or one during the May primary election.
Two new commissioners will take office in January, with only Itzen of the current commission remaining. To get a tax measure on a March ballot would require the commissioners to approve one within days of taking office.
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 base line 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.
In their letter to Williams of Oregon Community Foundation of Portland, commissioners outlined the county’s fiscal condition.
“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.