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County officials face challenging new year

By Jane Stebbins / The Curry Coastal Pilot

Two new Curry County Commissioners andndash; Susan Brown and David Brock Smith andndash; were sworn in Monday morning knowing they will face a myriad of challenges in their upcoming years of public service.

They were among other elected officials who gathered at the courthouse in Gold Beach to tackle the new andndash; or in some cases, continuing andndash; tasks in their respective positions. Brown will take the Position 3 seat, formerly occupied by Bill Waddle; Smith will take Position 2, formerly occupied by George Rhodes. Commissioner David Itzen remains on the board.

Brown said the day after she won the election against Greg Empson in November that she was excited to get to work andndash; the next day. She beat Empson with 5,969 votes to his 3,389.

She said during her campaign that the county is filled with talented, knowledgeable people who are willing to work together toward financial stability and economic growth.

"That's the time people want to step up and help," Brown said Monday, when asked why anyone would want to address the monumental tasks ahead. "People have something to bring to the table; they want to give it a shot."

Smith, who won his seat against Lucie La Bontandeacute; with 5,849 votes to her 4,344 votes, ran on a platform to bring Curry County politics back to the local level, particularly in the timber industry.

"We have a lot of challenges ahead," Smith said. "I believe our future lies in diversifying the revenue portfolio, and as many plans as have been represented, we're already getting to work on them.

"I believe we'll forge a fantastic team for Curry County," he added. "I'm really excited. We all bring different areas of knowledge to the board and are committed to the people of the county. I believe we'll forge a fantastic team."

The three commissioners face a daunting task; County Accountant Gary Short will give them an in-depth analysis of the county's budgetary woes at 1:30 p.m. today (Jan. 9). Curry County faces a $3 million shortfall in the 2013-2014 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Rocky McVay, executive director of the Association of OandC Counties, said Monday Curry County could see between $300,000 and $350,000 from OandC revenues for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"That's really a drop in the bucket," Itzen said. "I mean, we're grateful for any help we can get, and hopefully it will go through. If it does, it will come too late for us, and it's only small fraction of what we need. We're looking at shortfalls that will hit us in May. We're short $3 million just to maintain our depleted levels as it is."

Any tax would have to go to the voters.

"It is not a pretty picture," Itzen said. "Time is running short if we want to put something on the May ballot; it has to be filed in March."

What they would put on any ballot has yet to be determined, but it would likely be some kind of a revenue generator andndash; a tax andndash; to recoup the millions of dollars the county has lost for basic services.

The county has already "spun" off various departments to nonprofit organizations andndash; health and human services to Curry Health, and the animal shelter to Pennies for Pooches, for example andndash; making the county no longer liable for salaries, benefits and most notably, retirement payments. The county has half the employees it had in 2011 andndash; losing some through attrition, spin-offs and retirement, but many to other counties where the financial outlook is more stable.

The federal government, urged by local and state lawmakers, has in past years loosened its purse strings, giving OandC timber counties funds, albeit, at smaller amounts than in the logging heyday. This year, however, it has indicated it won't help themselves."

The implication was directed at the anti-tax stance firmly entrenched in Oregon, and especially in Curry County, where some citizens don't believe the county is as bad as officials say.

The federal government has said before it wouldn't bail the OandC timber land counties out andndash; creating complacency among the citizenry about the issue.

Other ways the county might pursue in kick-starting the economy could become more clear once the redundant Internet system is complete sometime this spring. Redundancy means service goes uninterrupted by those who use computers andndash; businesses, banks, hospitals and others andndash; even if a line is cut.

That has been a stumbling block for businesses interested in relocating to the area and of major interest to those who would like to see long-distance learning and real-time medical diagnoses available, among others.

Commissioners will also likely be involved in economic development discussion surrounding the airport in Brookings.

"Here we go," Brown said. "It's going to be interesting. We're going to have to figure out where we're going to go from here."

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The Curry Coastal Pilot
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