OFFICIALS TACKLE COUNTY DEFICIT
February 09, 2001 11:00 pm

GOLD BEACH A hiring freeze and other budget-cutting measures were discussed by the Curry County Commissioners at a work session Wednesday.

After the workshop, they reconvened Mondays regular meeting briefly, but decided not to vote on a hiring freeze yet.

The workshop was held to discuss the budget priorities of the three commissioners. Department heads were allowed to observe, but the commissioners were not yet ready for their input.

Beyond mandated services, Commissioner Lucie La Bont said one of her priorities is the Public Services Department.

She said the lack of an additional building inspector and a sanitarian is slowing up the economy and county revenues.

An employee, she said, is needed to develop a fire protection and emergency plan for Agness. That person would also provide staff support in the Public Services department.

The county also needs another computer technician and a fiscal services director, La Bont said.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said she understands the need, but doesnt know how to justify it in light of the $521,096 deficit revealed in the countys audit.

La Bont said the building inspector and sanitarian could generate income for the county through fees. The computer technician could save the county money, and the fiscal services director could help the county avoid another deficit.

La Bont said the state also mandates an animal control program, but doesnt specify the size. She said it may not require a full time person if the county cant afford it.

Commissioner Cheryl Thorp said some pressure would be taken off the county animal shelter when the South Coast Humane Society builds its own shelter in Brookings, but she said that could take some time.

Schafer said animal control has a $40,000 budget shortfall. She said it, along with other functions, should not be in the budget of the commissioners office.

It doesnt belong in ours, she said. It needs to stand alone.

Department heads may not have been allowed to comment, but whispers from around the room indicated they too wanted various functions removed from their budgets.

Schafer said the previous commissioners and budget committee members back-filled animal control and other departments with state economic development funds. The commissioners agreed they would have to fund mandated services, but La Bont asked what was included in non-mandated services.

Thorp said in the Community Justice Department, the juvenile division is mandated, but the adult work center is not.

She said Home Health/Hospice is not mandated, along with mental health and some functions of the Public Health Department.

The state mandates a sheriff and jail, but not patrol deputies and detectives.

Thorp said, I cant imagine telling the public no more hospice, flu clinics and mental health. Im a people person. I just dont want to let these things go.

Something has to go, La Bont said. Id like more public health. I want the federal government to do something for people.

She said the federal government closed needed institutions, resulting in mentally ill people wandering the streets without medication or treatment.

She said the county and state has no budget surplus, but the federal government does, and should use it to help people.

Schafer said as far as the county work center goes, the judges should lift their sanctions now that former director Ron Mathis is gone, and the program could make money.

She said all the commissioners can do is get realistic budgets from the county departments, figure in additional income from the new federal safety net bill, and plan for a realistic cash carry-over. She doesnt want to borrow the cash carry-over from the Road Department and pay it back, as has been done in the past.

Schafer also favors raises for department heads. Union employees have negotiated raises in recent years, but the department heads who supervise them havent had raises in at least four years.

Schafer said what happens to non-mandated programs depends on what the Oregon legislature does.

She has also been talking with Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative to try to estimate what rate increases will do to next years budget.

She also hopes to update the countys antiquated phone system in increments.

La Bont suggested they ask the department heads to submit two budgets for the upcoming fiscal year: last years budget with any fluff taken out, and a wish-list budget.

Schafer said part of the problem is that some department heads go by their monthly financial statements, which only reflect the bills already paid.

That would be equivalent to a private citizen not taking outstanding checks into consideration when writing new checks.

Schafer said Accounting Manager Geoff Buchheim was supposed to warn departments about such behavior. She said past commissioners may not have allowed him to do that job.

Thorp gave the department heads some credit. They have to work with new liaison commissioners every two years. Im surprised we have any employees at all.

She said the commissioners office operates on a bare-bones budget. She brings back pens and pencils for the office from the conferences she attends.

She said Schafer brought in her fax machine from home. La Bont said she is not above taking pens from motels for the office.

The commissioners would like to set up a central ordering system for office supplies, and purchase them at the state discount. They said they would have to use an existing employee to run the program, however.

La Bont said the county could also save by copying on both sides of sheets of paper.

Schafer felt the county needed an immediate freeze on hiring. She said they could allow the hiring of positions paid by grant funds, or employees all three commissioners agree need to be hired.

La Bont said, Couldnt we just put the department heads on notice wed all be looking carefully at hiring?

Schafer said she would agree to that only if any one commissioner would have veto power over that hiring.

It would be by consensus, said La Bont.

That wouldnt include replacements for the current staff, said Thorp, but Schafer said they would be included if the department was over budget.

We cant afford to get wrote up by the state, she said.

Schafer also suggested buying discount phone cards, at 4 cents a minute, versus having the county employees using calling cards at 25 cents a minute.

La Bont said the county is currently paying AT&T $2,000 a month for phone cards. She said the county could have 100 cell phones for $2,000 a month.

Schafer said the county should start doing whatever private citizens do to save money.

She said some non-mandated departments and programs might have to be placed on special levies if the citizens want the services continued.

We cant run it all full-bore, she said.

The commissioners decided to continue their discussion at 2 p.m. Friday, and meet with their department heads at 9 a.m. Monday.