A little less than 100 miles away, voters in Josephine County on Tuesday rejected a property tax levy, leaving county officials no choice but to start releasing jail prisoners and cutting up to 125 staff members in the coming months.
Is this the fate of Curry County, which faces a similar timber funding shortage?
Our commissioners have been toying with the idea of putting 3 percent sales tax on the November ballot to replace federal timber funds that, for decades, have chiefly paid for county services.
That is, they were until Tuesday, when Josephine County’s property tax went down in flames, as did a school levy proposed by Central Curry School District. Not to mention that two of Curry County’s commissioners lost the primary election and became lame ducks.
It seems that a majority of voters in Curry County, and elsewhere, are calling officials’ bluff. Voters just don’t believe that timber counties are broke.
Can we blame them?
After all, didn’t our Curry County commissioners claim the county was going to go bankrupt by this summer, only to get a last-minute reprieve (thanks to a state legislative bill) that allowed the county to use $70,000 in road funds to fund the sheriff’s road deputies. Also, the commissioners decided to take $350,000 earmarked for vehicle replacements and put it in the general fund. And, they will use $450,000 of the county’s working capital, which is used to pay bills, to keep county “functional” through next year.
These are stopgap measures for sure, but pulling money out of a hat at the 11th hour doesn’t build a strong case that the county is on the brink of insolvency.
We don’t have any quick solutions to the county’s dilemma. We doubt the current commissioners will put a sales tax on the November ballot. We have sympathy, but not much hope, for the incoming commissioners.
Meanwhile, Congress may reauthorize county timber payments, but at a greatly reduced level, and the Oregon Legislature’s joint task force on county payments is meeting regularly to study solutions – our commissioners are scheduled to present information in a conference call to the task force in Salem Tuesday.
We’ll continue to track these efforts and the situation in Josephine County, so we have some idea of what lies ahead for Curry County.
It doesn’t look pretty.