By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST
GOLD BEACH ? The previously balanced Curry County budget is $177,000 in the red again, thanks to union negotiations, said Commissioner Marlyn Schafer Wednesday.
Schafer said a tentative agreement with the Teamsters union and projected medical insurance costs for the Oregon Public Employees Union put the entire county budget down $177,000, so far. Of that deficit, $115,000 applies to the county general fund.
The commissioners will hold a budget meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the problem. They also discussed it during a meeting with department heads Wednesday morning.
?We don?t know yet what we?re going to do,? said Schafer.
She said the county is waiting to see if it will get more state funding. She?s learned, however, that the state may cut $14,000 in funding to the Curry County Public Services Department.
?The legislature is being sort of anti-county,? said Commissioner Lucie La Bont. She said the same of the governor?s office.
Schafer told the department heads, ?Maybe we won?t be able to do some of the things we wanted to do this year to put the county on track.?
Among the items that may have to be postponed, said La Bont, is a $25,000 salary study. She said if it is postponed a year, it would take two years before any salary reclassifications could be done.
She said the county will have to give up something if employees insist on a fully-paid health insurance package.
She said she believes in providing full insurance, but that few governments across the state can afford to do so anymore.
Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf asked the department heads, ?How do you feel about delaying the salary study??
Human Services Director Deb Wilson said she needs to do new job descriptions and reclassifications to retain employees.
She asked if departments with sufficient funding could do so before the new salary study is done.
Schafer said it would have to been done within the existing salary study.
Schaaf said some departments could be ?held hostage? by delaying the study, but La Bont said the commissioners had already said no changes would be allowed until a new study is completed.
She wondered if departments with sufficient state and federal funding could go ahead on reclassifications.
County Clerk Renee Kolen said, ?It?s a morale issue. Some departments can give raises, others have no resources.?
?It?s an equity issue,? agreed La Bont, ?but if you get outside funding, should you be penalized??
County Assessor Jim Kolen wanted departments treated equitably. ?If you allow one department to do it, it creates a real morale problem.?
County Counsel Jerry Herbage advised the commissioners to start setting money aside to do the study, so employees would know it wouldn?t be delayed indefinitely.
La Bont said she would also search for state grant funding for the study.
District Attorney Charlie Steak said departments already have some of the data, and could pitch in to help reduce the cost.
La Bont said, ?Maybe we can do it, but staff time is maxed out now.?
?It would be worth it if we can do it a year earlier,? said Steak.
Schafer said if the employees want fully-paid medical insurance, the county still won?t be able to give raises, even with a new salary study.
She said the county may have to choose to do less, or do it with fewer people. ?We can?t pull it (the money) out of a hat.?
?We still only have a $900,000 tax base,? said La Bont. She said the defeat of the sheriff?s levy showed people won?t pay more.
Jim Kolen said the defeat doesn?t mean people won?t pay, but that they didn?t think the levy was needed. He felt a comprehensive tax package with things people really wanted could pass.
La Bont said legislators are asking why Curry County won?t pay for more of its own programs, since it has the lowest tax rate in the state.
?They say Portland is paying most of the state taxes and ask why we?re coming up to them asking for more state funding,? said La Bont.
She said people in Curry County feel they live in an economically depressed area, but that Brookings-Harbor is not depressed by any standard.
Public Health Director Barbara Floyd said increased funding for public health is a state issue. She said Portland will get the lion?s share of any increase.
La Bont said the senate president told her he?s not keen on using tobacco settlement money for health care because the voters turned down a similar idea in November.
Floyd said her department has to deal with the effects of tobacco in everything it does.