COUNTY RECEIVES LITTLE HELP FOR KEY PROBLEMS
July 26, 2001 11:00 pm

By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST

?Very disappointing,? was Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont?s assessment of the performance of this year?s state Legislature.

?It was very disappointing for county government,? she said. ?Maybe others benefitted.?

She said the bill to allow port districts to submit law-enforcement levies was one positive legislative outcome.

She credited South Coast legislators Sen. Ken Messerle, R-Coos Bay, and Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, for ?really trying.?

La Bont was no stranger to Salem before being elected county commissioner, and she made several lobbying trips there this year.

?I felt like I accomplished more last year,? said La Bont of her visits to the legislature. ?I got cold feet the first or second time I was up there this year. Staff people told me counties were low priority up there.?

?It was pretty dismal,? she said.

?No one knew what was going on. I heard that the session would be over tomorrow for two weeks.

?Messerle and Krieger did all they could to communicate with us, but I don?t think they knew what was going on. A couple of people were running the whole show.?

She said the two Republican legislators gave her, a Democrat, all the information they could.

La Bont said, ?The state government expects county governments to administer state programs without funding.?

?We did get a little bit more for mental health,? she added.

The grant program she was counting on to help the county replace its crumbling emergency communications towers and system was funded for only $1 million for the entire state.

She doubted the rest of the state would be willing to give half of that to Curry County, so she is already looking for federal grants.

La Bont said the Association of Oregon Counties agreed public health was the top priority for funding this year, but the Legislature gave counties no additional funding for it.

?We all really tried,? she said of the county commissioners and lobbyists from organizations like the League of Women Voters.

?It fell on deaf ears,? said La Bont. ?The health of low-income people was not a priority.?

?If an infectious disease breaks out tomorrow,? she said, ?we don?t have the funds to fight it.?

?They should be helping out with public health,? said La Bont of the state. ?Messerle understood the problems, but his hands were tied.?

It wasn?t just the legislature, said La Bont. She said the governor also pulled money away from counties and gave it back to state programs.

She said the speaker of the House and president of the Senate were making deals with the governor.

?There was a lot of deal-making going on,? said La Bont. ?Something not healthy is going on with the Legislature.?

?What happened to the grass-roots up approach?? she said. ?They cut state funds going to local government. It was an odd year.?

La Bont said federal funds and county fees are now paying the bulk of the cost of running county government.

She said the legislature almost shifted federal safety net funds away from county roads to schools, to make up for other federal safety net funds it had taken away from the schools.

?There were some pretty scary things going on,? she said.

La Bont said lobbying from the Association of Oregon Counties stopped the attempt to shift funds, but took energy and time needed for the renewal of the safety net bill.