An initiative to change the form of county government to home rule has been accepted by the state, allowing supporters to start gathering signatures to put it on a fall ballot.
The initiative would replace the current form — three full-time, paid commissioners — with five, part-time commissioners and a paid administrator.
The proposal was drawn up by the Curry County Fiscal Independence Committee (FIC), which reviewed last year’s citizens committee analysis of what would be most likely to contribute to the county’s financial well-being in deciding how to proceed.
Since the failure of a tax levy increase question on the May 21 ballot, the county is faced with operating its general fund with $2.1 million — a far cry from the amount of money it had available when timber funds subsidized Oregon’s 18 O&C counties. The county has laid off numerous employees — it has 99 now, compared to 201 a year ago — and spun off many of its departments to nonprofit organizations.
FIC was spearheaded by Commissioner Susan Brown, who was the only one on the board to vote against putting a property tax increase. It failed, 56 to 44 percent. Brown said she believes county spending can be reined in using other methods than taxation, although she is amenable to looking at taxes citizens might want to pursue.
The group initially took the citizens committees 19 recommendations addressing how the county could deal with its financial shortfalls and expanded upon that. Brown has repeatedly said she wants more citizen input before anything is done to alter county finances.
FIC members feel the current manner under which county government is conducted is inefficient and ineffective, although county commissioners have said the county’s fiscal problems are not related to what form of government under which the county operates.
If the initiative gets voter approval, the county’s form of government would shift to home rule and be operated by a board of five part-time commissioners who would focus on policy-making and long-term strategies for the future. They would each be limited to an annual stipend of $10,000; currently, county commissioners make $60,000 plus benefits.
A chief administrator would be hired to manage day-to-day affairs of the county, wrote Kathy Brayer of FIC, in an email to the Pilot. It has yet to be determined how much that person would be paid, but most in Oregon are paid at least $100,000.
The sheriff and district attorney would continue to be elected. The assessor, county clerk, treasurer and surveyor positions would be filled by the administrator.
If the initiative is approved by the voters, Brayer wrote, effective July 1, 2014, the three seated commissioners would remain, but receive the reduced salary. They would be required to appoint an interim county administrator before Aug. 1, 2014.
The elected officials would keep their jobs and the district attorney and sheriff would administer their departments “free of interference by the commissioners,” she wrote.
In November 2014, the voters would elect the commissioner position currently held by David Itzen and two new commissioners, one for an initial term of two years and one for a complete four-year term.
In January 2015, the five-member board would conduct a search and hire a county administrator.
Other frequently-asked questions Brayer outline in her email pertain to commissioners and their ability to increase the size of their stipend – only the amount that Social Security payments are increased – and how the charter would solve Curry County’s more pressing financial problems.
It wouldn’t be directly, nor immediately, Brayer wrote.
“However,” she wrote, “it will free up the five commissioners to spend more time looking for solutions other than more taxes.”