COUNTY ERASES BUDGET DEFICIT

January 11, 2002 12:00 am

GOLD BEACH A $96,546 deficit was erased by the Curry County Budget Committee Wednesday, but members were mindful of a predicted financial train wreck in coming years.

Weve made progress this year, said County Commissioner Marlyn Schafer, but weve all looked at the financial plan.

The countys financial plan, written by consultant Dick Hill, warned of the collapse of county government within a few years unless it can become less dependent on federal funds.

All the county commissioners, and lay budget-committee members Linda Brown, Don Buffington and Scott McKenzie, expressed concern about what might happen if the federal safety-net payments for timber counties are not renewed in six years.

Schafer had said in previous budget hearings that what Curry County receives in property taxes would not be enough to keep the doors open, much less provide any services to citizens.

Curry County government receives only about 6 cents out of every property tax dollar.

Most services are paid for by federal and state dollars, which are vulnerable this year to legislative budget cuts.

Well have to eliminate programs if revenues dry up, said Commissioner Lucie La Bont.

Throughout the two days of hearings, committee members discussed what would happen if the county turned some programs, like Public Health or Human Services, over to the state.

Brown said it was the role of the lay members to ask the tough questions, because they werent as politically vulnerable as the commissioners.

La Bont asked interim Juvenile Director Terry Yantis what would happen if Human Services was turned back to the state.

Yantis, who is also the vice chairwoman of the Human Services Advisory Board, said, That would be a big question.

She said, depending on what the state did, the Juvenile Department would have to spend more time working on the primary mental health needs of juveniles.

Its hugely time consuming, she said. These kids are a danger to themselves and others. It would take away from what we do now with juvenile offenders.

Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf estimated the Juvenile Department would need two more full-time employees to cover the load if the county lost its Human Services Department. Yantis agreed.

Schaaf warned that any savings from the closure of social service departments could be eaten up by increased expenditures by the jail and law enforcement agencies.

As for possible state and federal budget cuts to the county, Schaaf said, Well be keeping all the variables in mind as we go into the future. Well make it.

The future may be uncertain, but the commissioners were proud of what they had accomplished fiscally this year.

Quarterly budget meetings allowed them to tackle problems before they got out of hand.

The budget committee faced a $96,546 deficit when the hearings began Tuesday morning, but were able to erase it with relatively minor adjustments.

Committee members wiped out half the deficit by using half of the money set aside to pay unemployment insurance.

Little of the money in that account had been used or was expected to be needed in the second half of the fiscal year.

The rest of the deficit was erased by higher than expected revenues in some departments. None of the departments exceeded their predicted expenses by much.

By keeping the budget on track, said Schafer, the commissioners should be able to present the rest of the budget committee with a balanced budget at the beginning of annual budget hearings this spring.

Schafer said the current commissioners have also worked to build up the cash carry-over fund that had been wiped out by their predecessors.

The cash carry-over funds county government from the start of the fiscal year on July 1 until federal payments arrive in November.

The county had to borrow most of what it needed this year from the Road Department Capital Improvement Fund. The loan was repaid as soon as the federal payments arrived.

Schafer wants to begin the new fiscal year with a cash-carry-over of about $850,000. She said the county really needs about $1.5 million, since the federal payments dont arrive until nearly December under the new program.