COUNTY BUDGETS RAISE CONCERNS

March 28, 2001 12:00 am

(The following is part two in a series that looks at the budget situations of six of Curry Countys 21 departments.)

GOLD BEACH During two days of budget meetings last week with department heads, the Curry County Commissioners often ran into salaries that were too high for the county to afford, but at the same time too low to retain qualified employees.

The salary adjustment request that raised the most eyebrows came from the Curry County Commission on Children and Families.

Commission on Children and Families

Program Director Rachelle Schaaf surprised the commissioners when she told them she included a reclassification of her position, from 9 to 12, in her proposed budget.

The commissioners had instructed department heads to include a 5 percent raise for themselves in their most stringent budget, but Schaaf told them her request was over and above that.

She said when she took the position, it had been demoted from a 10 to a 9. She said at $34,080, she is close to topping out at the most a 9 can make.

Schaaf said her job should have been rated at a 10 all along, so she has been working out of class for three years.

She said a 10 is still too low for what she does, so she is placing herself at a 12.

She said she looked at other comparable county positions, such as that of Addictions Program Manager Terry Bell, a 12.5 position.

Schaaf said she has a masters degree in sociology, has learned to prepare the budget for her department, and has made her department more active in the community.

She said Senate Bill 555 has also increased her responsibilities exponentially. The bill required counties to produce consolidated plans addressing issues facing children and youth through age 18.

At a minimum, the plans must cover early childhood supports, alcohol and other drug prevention and treatment, and crime prevention services for the highest-risk youth.

Commissioner Cheryl Thorp, Schaafs liaison, said, Rachelles an incredible leap, many steps above the prior director.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont said she understands Schaaf deserves the raise, but thought she showed the commissioners some disrespect by ignoring their budget directions.

The department heads were instructed to prepare an A budget, essentially last years budget with a 5 percent raise for the department heads, and a B budget for things that are needed but may not be affordable next year.

She said she wouldnt have objected to Schaaf putting her request into her B budget.

La Bont said there is a lot of inequality in department head salaries. She said one of her department heads makes less than the janitors, but is not asking for a raise.

We need a salary study to do whats right for everyone, said La Bont.

Schaaf said she meant no disrespect and had talked it over with her liaison.

Rachelle is an incredible resource, said Thorp.

We have other department heads just as deserving, said La Bont. No one is questioning her qualifications.

La Bont said, I want to deal with the whole problem as were doing the budget and see what can be done for other people.

Schaaf said theyve been working on the problem for three years. She asked how long it would take. She said she has student loans to pay, and her salary will affect her retirement.

Id like to be paid for the work that I do, said Schaaf. I support parity, but how much longer do I have to wait?

La Bont said, This is the tough year. Were making up for this years fiscal problems.

Schaaf said, Im looking for rectification for a long-standing injustice. Ive heard its every person for herself.

No, said La Bont, but it will be if we do it one at a time.

Schaafs salary increase would not come out of county funds. The department takes nothing from the general fund. Instead, said Schaaf, her department will contribute $60,000 next year to county departments like Public Health.

La Bont asked what would happen if the legislature cuts funding to Schaafs department.

Schaaf said the department would just have to work harder to bring more grant money into the community. Schafer said she was concerned only that Schaafs $4,000 carry-over was not large enough. Schaaf said she receives state funds as soon as the legislative session ends, sometimes as early as July 2.

She said $4,000 would carry the department through all of July, but that she could adjust the budget for a larger carry-over.

Commissioners Office

This budget includes the commissioners office, the caretaker of the Brookings Airport, the Board of Equalization, Dog Control, and the county counsel.

County Counsel Jerry Herbages budget, which also covers his share of one secretary, was up $2,600 over last years budget.

The discussion of his budget centered on the number of hours he puts in. Herbage said he averages 40 hours a week, but cases can drive that to 60 hours or more.

He said this year is not the time to ask for more help, but he felt the county could really use one and a half county counsels. Theres a lot of work to be done.There could be 60 hours more work done a week.

Thorp said Herbage needs a schedule because people are always walking in on him. She was also concerned about two cases where the county had to hire outside legal help.

Herbage said he cant be involved in cases where he has a conflict of interest. He can only advise the board of the situation and go with their decision. He said outside help is expensive, averaging about $150 an hour. The county spends about $92,000 a year to have its own counsel. Outside contracts would cost $300,000 a year.

Schafer said, I agree with Cheryl about bringing the department heads under control. Its a priority for me. They need to schedule and do more themselves.

She said the budget for the commissioners office is up about $17,000. She said the office needs a new car and computers to replace the nonfunctional ones.

Sheree Cook, the commissioners administrative assistant, said the budget includes two new cars and expenses for a third one, and $4,500 for three new computers.

La Bont said the Brookings Flying Club donated money to offset part of the salary of the secretary who works on airport business. Cook said the airports caretaker is paid $3,000 a year after deducting for rent.

She said $30,000 of economic development funds goes into the commissioners office budget for work done on economic development. Schafer asked if there would be any money left for the Curry County Economic Improvement Board and Cook said there should be.