GOLD BEACH The Curry County commissioners fear their predecessors may have left the county $300,000 to $500,000 short of what it needs to keep operating until the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said at Wednesdays commissioners workshop that even though the independent audit is not yet in, she believes the county is at least $300,000 in the hole.

She said a discussion with county Accounting Manager Geoff Buchheim backed up her suspicions.

La Bont said the previous commissioners budgeted for 12 months when they should have budgeted for 15.

She said they spent the carry-over needed to keep the county operating from the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1 until federal timber payments arrive in October. Money from the new federal safety net bill wont show up until November.

La Bont said part of the problem is that the commissioners never hired another fiscal services director when Pete Hatfield died.

Instead, they left Buchheim, an accountant, in charge of the department. La Bont said he did a fine job, but did not have time to work on long-range financial planning.

She said the budget shortfall comes at a time when the county needs another building inspector.

She recently attended a meeting with 40 builders who said they sometimes have to pay idle crews for a day and a half while waiting for scheduled inspections. She said the builders bring $6 million a year into Curry County.

La Bont now fears the extra funds from the federal bill, up to $900,000, may all go to restoring the carry-over money that was spent.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said, We wanted to save the 393 money, but probably wont be able to the first year. The federal payments are now referred to as 393 money after the last three digits of the law number.

We have tons of needs, said Commissioner Cheryl Thorp. Among those needs, she said, are more computer technicians.

Thorp also said department heads havent had raises in three or four years. La Bont said shes heard some good people may leave if that doesnt change.

The late audit is also a problem for the commissioners. Schafer said the county was supposed to have it completed, under state statute, by Dec. 31.

She said the firm, Maxwell and Hallis of Eugene, could take two more weeks to finalize the audit report.

Schafer suggested the commissioners look at the contract with the firm for any late penalties. She also suggested changing to a company that audits many counties.