COUNTY DEPARTMENTS FACE BUDGET WOES
February 16, 2001 11:00 pm
Lucy LaBonte ().
Lucy LaBonte ().

GOLD BEACH Curry Countys animal shelter may be having its budget problems, but so are all the departments that help humans, said the Curry County Commissioners at Wednesdays work session.

Commissioner Cheryl Thorp warned we will have the citizens on our backs, if something isnt done to save the shelter.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said, Lots of departments are having problems, including the district attorney and the Public Health Department.

Schafer said because of funding cuts by the Oregon legislature, departments arent getting the revenue they had projected.

People can say, We really want it, but they have to step forward and help us do that, said Schafer.

What are we going to do with the people who cant take care of themselves? said Commissioner Lucie La Bont.

The federal government has a surplus, but wants to give the money back to the taxpayers, La Bont said.

I care about all the departments, said Schafer, the sheriff, public health, mental health.

She said Deputy District Attorney Alexandria Streich will leave the department at the end of the month to take a better job in Lane County.

That will leave District Attorney Charlie Steak on his own, and all law enforcement in the county has to be funneled through his office, Schafer said.

She said Steak has not been able to attract applicants for the other deputy district attorney position, which has been vacant for months.

Schafer said that half of the district attorneys budget has already been spent. Revenues are low, partly because Steaks office may have been unaware of how to apply for some state funds.

She said the only encouraging sign is that the union agreed to allow Steak to hire a nonunion employee.

We cant compete with other counties, said Thorp. Were lucky to get one applicant.

La Bont said the Association of Oregon Counties is trying to get more funding out of the legislature, but legislators say the states economy is getting worse, and they are already making cuts for next year.

Public Health is having severe problems, said Schafer. Victims assistance lost funding, and the forfeiture laws changed, costing many departments some funding.

Public Health is working on a skeleton crew, said Thorp. She said Public Health Director Barbara Floyd told her if the department loses one more position, it may have to close.

They may have to close their north and south county offices, said La Bont. What can we do? Declare bankruptcy?

The reality is we have to close some programs, La Bont said. We were elected to make those decisions.

Thorp said, We were elected to serve the people.

Schafer said the good news is they have until the end of the current fiscal year to come up with solutions.

Every department head will be talking with the commissioners about their incoming revenues and any options, she said.

After that, said Schafer, the commissioners can tell the citizens what is needed to keep the programs going.

If we can just get through this fiscal year...., she said.

Schafer added, The Public Services Department overspent its capital outlay last year, something the state could write the county up for.

Fiscal Services Accounting Manager Geoff Buchheim said making a reallocation of funds at the end of the fiscal year could have prevented that, but it wasnt reported until after June 30.

Schafer said that pointed to the need for departments to do internal bookkeeping.

Buchheim said it would cost more, but his department could use purchase orders and immediately remove expenditures from the funds available.

Schafer said departments cant continue to rely on monthly statements to determine whether or not they have money left to spend.

La Bont said some departments overprojected their revenues and may have to cut their budgets for the rest of the year.

Thorp said part of that is because Medicare and Medicaid are not reimbursing payments properly.

Schafer said they have improved payments recently. She said the revenues are coming in and departments dependent on Medicare and Medicaid should be fine in the long run.

An example, she said, is the Home Health/Hospice Department, which overspent its budget by $180,000 two years ago.

Schafer said that wasnt the fault of anyone in the department. When the commissioners first set up the department years ago, they gave it no working capital, she said.

When federal reimbursements were slow in coming in, the result was a massive deficit. Schafer said payments are now arriving, and the departments deficit is down to $131,000.

She said she is more worried about the Public Health Department,which had a $57,000 deficit last year, and is way behind on revenue this year.

She said while Public Health has spent half its budget for the year, it has received only 39 percent of its revenue.

Schafer said she hasnt had a chance to talk with Floyd yet, who may be expecting revenues that would balance her budget.

Thorp said most of Floyds deficit came from retraining costs after several nurses left the county.

La Bont said Floyd would have to look at past years and figure the cost of employee turnover into her budget.

Schafer said part of the problem is that the budget committee slashed funds, leaving Floyd little choice.

The budget committee lay members are fine citizens, she said, but dont necessarily have the financial expertise to know when a cut may actually cost the county more in the long run.

She said presenting them with a balanced budget this year would help.

Another problem department, said Schafer, is Community Justice, where no one knew how to apply for state reimbursements totaling $200,000.

The good news, she said, is the Oregon Department of Corrections is pleased the commissioners are separating the adult and juvenile divisions again.

La Bont said some departments are unaware that when the state allots funds to the county, there is usually a form to fill out and send in to get the check.

Schafer said the sheriffs office didnt apply for $15,000 in state marijuana eradication funds last year, but applied this year and will get the money for both years.

La Bont heard the state legislature wont be funding public health and mental health this year.

If the federal government wont fund it, the state legislature wont fund it, and the local taxpayers wont fund it, it will have to go, she said.

Well be turning our backs on low-income people, she said. To me, thats a crime, but what can we do?

Its happening all over rural America, she added. No one wants to face the medical problem.

La Bont said, The people have spoken in Curry County. They dont want to help their fellow man, the lower income people. What can we do?

The federal government has the surplus, she said. Well see how they care about rural America.

Thorp said low Medicare payments are also threatening ambulance services in rural America.

She said 65 percent of Cal-Ore Life Flights runs are paid by Medicare, with only 8 percent of people in the county paying by private insurance.

Thats why we had volunteer ambulance services for years, said La Bont.

Thorp said ambulance services used to charge whatever the insurance or Medicare didnt pay to the users. Now they cant recoup the full cost.

How will they stay solvent? she said.

La Bont said the county probably should have started a reserve fund, as the road department did in 1989.

She reminded people, however, that when prior commissioners had a surplus, they gave much of it to needed projects, like the ports, libraries and the hospital.