Four candidates, two seats

October 12, 2012 10:58 pm

Curry County is on the brink of insolvency as the loss of federal timber funds and low property tax rates have left little money to balance the general fund budget. Already the county has cut jobs, turned over several departments to nonprofit groups, and the sheriff is pulling deputies off patrol to staff a dilapidated, overcrowded jail.

Commissioners have funded the current fiscal year by taking $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013. After that, they don’t expect to have enough in the county’s general fund to keep operating.

Into this situation walk four candidates running for two commissioner positions in the Nov. 6 general election – each one with ideas on how the problems can be solved. ...

 

 David Brock Smith

David Brock Smith says it’s time for Curry County to stop depending on federal money to operate.

“Our time for independence has come and we have the resources, willingness and ability to succeed,” Smith said. “This independence will require tough decisions on what services the county will provide and how they will be funded.”

Smith, of Port Orford, is facing former Commissioner Lucie La Bonté of Gold Beach in the November election for the nonpartisan County Commissioner Position 2. 

“The whole core of my campaign is we must work together to get the county back on track,” Smith said.

“Our county is rich with sustainable natural resources and the time for local control has arrived,” he said.

He says that for decades a variety of Federal plans have supported a significant portion of the county’s General Fund.

“Although this funding has been inconsistent and beyond our control, we have built programs, hired staff and negotiated compensation that relies on it,” Smith said. 

“There has been much debate over how these funds have been managed in the past, but we must resolve that whatever Federal revenue is received in the future must be placed in reserve,” he said. “We cannot continue to use these funds for payroll as they could be here one year and gone the next, but the financial liabilities to our citizens would still remain.”

Smith said any future receipts from federal programs should be put in a reserve for repairing and replacing the county’s failing infrastructure.

“The new O&C Schrader, Walden and DeFazio Plan has merit and my support, although whatever funding solution that comes our way will not be suitable to fund the county’s current inadequate service levels, let alone any reserve,” he said.

“I cannot run my businesses and we cannot run our county never knowing if and when we will receive revenue. We must streamline county government, cut waste and make it easier for the people of Curry County to do business,” Smith said.

“One of the elements of my Curry County Economic Empowerment Plan is local control of our timber resources,” Smith said.  

He said the plan “is a pilot project that creates a balance of regeneration forestry while protecting streams and rivers for fish habitat. It creates a network of wildlife corridor habitat that follows these waterways and places other forest habitat in sensitive areas not suitable for timber harvest,” he said. 

“The plan also creates new wildlife habitat within the forest regeneration sites with new growth and vegetation, addresses the Sudden Oak Death issues facing our forest as well as assists in eliminating the serious wildfire dangers that presently exist,” Smith said.  

He said his plan would create the family wage jobs needed for the county to generate the revenue necessary to fund public safety and county services as well as bring in additional revenue to assist schools and health care services.  

Another key issues is reliable phone, Internet and cable service, he said.

Currently fiber-optic cable, which provides broadband Intenet, television service, credit card service and online banking, only goes in a straight line from Crescent City north to Bandon. If that line is cut, those services are lost. Construction of cable from the I-5 corridor to to the coast will soon be completed, resulting in a circle, which would allow quick rerouting of those services if the line is cut.

“The route redundancy loop will soon be completed and this will allow a constant flow of information and effectively eliminates the risk of downtime from fiber cuts and other disruptions. This creates the environment for new businesses to come to our area and increases the productivity of existing business, thus creating and expanding job growth and services.

Smith has served two terms on the Port Orford City Council, is a member of the Curry County Planning Commission, a member of the Port Orford-Langlois School Board and was a four year Director of America’s Wild Rivers Coast Board. 

Smith said his family has roots in Curry County.

“My grandfather was a logger. He owned a couple of logging companies in Port Orford in the ‘50s and ‘60s, retiring in the ‘60s,” Smith said. “He built the Port and Starboard Restaurant. My parents were high school sweethearts, graduated in ‘63. My dad retired after 27 years and moved the family here in 1990 and bought the restaurant from my grandpa.”

Smith went to Southwestern Oregon Community College, then to Southern Oregon University.

“I lived in Medford and Ashland for years, where they have some good restaurants. I worked in some of the best restaurants. I’m well rounded as a restaurateur. I came back and took over the family business in November, 2001 and I immediately got involved with the community,” Smith said. 

 

 Lucie La Bonté 

 

Lucie La Bonté of Gold Beach, who served as a county commissioner from 2001-2008, says with the county’s financial problems it needs to elect an experienced commissioner to help find the way out.

“I have the knowledge and experience,” she said. “My concern is it takes a while to learn the job. We’re in crisis. I can go in right away and start looking for money.”

La Bonté is facing David Brock Smith of Port Orford in the nonpartisan race for Commissioner Position 2 in the November general election.

“We probably can find some money in the budget. It will be tight, more difficult than in 2001,” she said.

La Bonté said the commissioners need to see if they can find a way to provide benefits for county employees at a lower cost.

“We would talk to elected officials and department heads to find ways to save money,” she said. “Some employees can do a four-day week. Some can’t.”

She said the county now has some employees working a 52-hour week and being paid for 38.

La Bonté said the legislature may be able to provide some help.

“The state does realize it’s a case about 18 counties going down. It’s not just Curry County,” she said.

“I think the legislature now will take it a little more serious,” La Bonté said. “Even if they can just change the mandates where the county doesn’t have the high costs.”

She said the O&C plan being worked on by the state’s Congressional delegation can help.

“That would allow O&C counties to harvest timber without so much restrictions,” La Bonté said. 

She said the government should be sending some back from the BLM to help the counties.

“The other piece is the U.S. Forest Service,” La Bonté said. “Sen. Ron Wyden is working on that. I feel they are going to work out a long-term solution for roads and schools.”

La Bonté said she has heard a lot of nay-sayers, “people not believing things will happen. But if you travel around the county and state, you’ll realize a lot more can happen.”

“I’m a very fiscally responsible person,” La Bonté said.

“We left with a $6.4 million carry-over,” she said of her last year in office. “Now, it’s down to $1.3 million in three years – from 2009 to 2012. We need to bring some fiscal responsibility back to the county.”

She said the county was $600,000 in the red when she took office in 2001.

“Within six months, the budget was in the black,” she said, due to her leadership.

La Bonté said she introduced the county’s first financial plan and went after funding in the form of grants for county parks and other departments.

She said she worked with the Forestry Coalition to bring mitigation dollars for the loss of economic development and settlements on federal lands that constitute approximately 70 percent of the land base in Curry County.

La Bonté said she appreciated the work of the Citizens’ Committee which Feb. 1 made 19 recommendations to commissioners to help solve the county’s financial crisis, including one to hire a full-time, professional chief administrative officer to manage the day-to-day affairs of the county and allow part-time or volunteer commissioners to focus on policy making and long-term strategies.

“I do think we need to look at that, because the government’s been reduced, we need to look if full time commissioners are necessary,” she said. 

“I feel the committee was given a big task with a short timeline, with all the information they needed to read up on and learn,” she said.

La Bonté said she has volunteered for many district, county and state committees beginning in the 1990s. She still serves on many, including the Curry County Fair Board.

She was a founding member of the South Coast Watershed Council, past chair of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association, past chair of the Siskiyou Forest Resource Advisory Committee (RAC), past chair of the Southwest and Oregon Resource Conservation & Development Councils and a past interim Fire Chief for Cape Ferrelo RFPD.

 Susan Brown

Susan Brown believes in citizen involvement and open government as she campaigns for a position on the Board of Commissioners.

“We should make government accessible for everyone, making sure the public is involved, making sure they know what’s going on so they fully understand where we’re at, have no misconception about money, the budget and taxes, they know everything,” Brown said.

Brown, of Gold Beach, is facing Greg Empson of Gold Beach for the nonpartisan Commissioner Position 3.

Brown said she has 4 1/2 years experience in economic development, has been a grant writer for 19 years, and was a business owner in Nevada for 15 years, where she was a member of the town council and was a member of the economic development board.

“The financial stability of the county is on everyone’s mind. We need to rework all budgets. More things can be cut. Reorganize more departments,” she said.

Brown said the commissioners need to look at outside resources.

“What are some funding sources to stabilize the county government? How can the county support economic growth of the cities, being a support body for that?” she said.

“I’m looking at a transit lodging tax, business licensing fees that cities have taken advantage of. The county should do the same,” Brown said.

“I’m not on board with a sales tax. That’s not the way to go,” she said.

“There are so many plans coming out of the federal government. Timber sources. There has to be a solution for the county to manage its own land. We need to sit down and look at some long term planning,” Brown said.

She said the county had the Citizens’ Committee that came up with suggestions last year and Portland State University’s Kitchen Table project will soon begin its project. Oregon’s Kitchen Table is a mechanism to get county residents thinking about the county budget and revenue options.

Brown said the county should examine ideas presented by both the Citizens’ Committee and those that will be brought forward by the Kitchen Table.

“We need to be stable outside the federal government, continue on without worrying about what the federal government will do. Show some self-reliance,” she said.

Brown said she wants to see more citizen involvement with county government.

“I would love to see commissioner meetings moved to different cities and in the evening so more people can attend,” she said. 

“My thought is it should be harder for commissioners to attend, not for the citizens to attend,” Brown said.

“We need to get more involved in economic development in county. That hasn’t been done in a couple of years. It needs to come back. We need to see how we can help our existing businesses and how we recruit new businesses,” she said.

Brown was Curry County Director of Economic and Community Development before the current commissioners closed that office, combining it with their office staff.

“Through the Curry County Economic Development, we were able to work with dozens and dozens of businesses, successfully creating and retaining more than 300 jobs in Curry County,” Brown said. “We brought in more than $5 million in the county through grants, business loans and programs.”

She says the county needs to go after more businesses.

“We need to take advantage of businesses that are popping up and take advantage of them. All that means a bigger tax base, job growth and to have people working,” Brown said.

She said along with economic growth, the county needs to concentrate on community growth.

“We need organization to reach out to people, the nonprofits serving the citizens, to develop a strong government,” Brown said.

“I see a future for Curry County. I don’t see us turning out the lights and closing the doors. I see it as an opportunity to be a strong county, Brown said. 

 “The financial stability of the county is on everyone’s mind. We need to rework all budgets. More things can be cut. Reorganize more departments,” she said.

Brown said the commissioners need to look at outside resources.

“What are some funding sources to stabilize the county government? How can the county support economic growth of the cities, being a support body for that?” she said.

“I’m looking at a transit lodging tax, business licensing fees that cities have taken advantage of. The county should do the same,” Brown said.

“I’m not on board with a sales tax. That’s not the way to go,” she said.

“There are so many plans coming out of the federal government. Timber sources. There has to be a solution for the county to manage its own land. We need to sit down and look at some long term planning,” Brown said.

She said the county had the Citizens’ Committee that came up with suggestions last year and Portland State University’s Kitchen Table project will soon begin its project. Oregon’s Kitchen Table is a mechanism to get county residents thinking about the county budget and revenue options.

Brown said the county should examine ideas presented by both the Citizens’ Committee and those that will be brought forward by the Kitchen Table.

“We need to be stable outside the federal government, continue on without worrying about what the federal government will do. Show some self-reliance,” she said.

Brown said she wants to see more citizen involvement with county government.

“I would love to see commissioner meetings moved to different cities and in the evening so more people can attend,” she said. 

“My thought is it should be harder for commissioners to attend, not for the citizens to attend,” Brown said.

“We need to get more involved in economic development in county. That hasn’t been done in a couple of years. It needs to come back. We need to see how we can help our existing businesses and how we recruit new businesses,” she said.

Brown was Curry County Director of Economic and Community Development before the current commissioners closed that office, combining it with their office staff.

“Through the Curry County Economic Development, we were able to work with dozens and dozens of businesses, successfully creating and retaining more than 300 jobs in Curry County,” Brown said. “We brought in more than $5 million in the county through grants, business loans and programs.”

She says the county needs to go after more businesses.

“We need to take advantage of businesses that are popping up and take advantage of them. All that means a bigger tax base, job growth and to have people working,” Brown said.

She said along with economic growth, the county needs to concentrate on community growth.

“We need organization to reach out to people, the nonprofits serving the citizens, to develop a strong government,” Brown said.

“I see a future for Curry County. I don’t see us turning out the lights and closing the doors. I see it as an opportunity to be a strong county, Brown said.

Greg Empson 

Greg Empson says Curry County commissioners should be looking at their looming budget crisis next July before concentrating on bringing in revenue years in the future.

“I think now we’re coming down to $2 million next July,” Empson said.

“I think we have to solve the current problems rather than finding a long-time solution.”

Empson, of Gold Beach, is a candidate for Curry County Commissioner Position 3 in the November general election. He is facing Susan Brown of Gold Beach in that nonpartisan contest. 

Empson, who retired to Gold Beach after a 31 year career in the hotel-casino industry, has never run for public office, but that should be considered a bad thing. 

“I moved here eight years ago from Florida,” he said. “I’ve never run for public office, never worked for government. I’ve always been in private industry and I think that’s the approach we need to take.”

With the loss of Secure Rural School federal funds, the county is expected to have only about $2.1 million from property taxes and fees for the fiscal year starting next July 1, well short of the $5 million needed for general fund departments, such as sheriff, district attorney and juvenile department.

“People are talking about plans to restore the SRS funding. I’m just worried about the county being wiped out before this happens,” Empson said. 

He said that a plan being worked on by the Oregon Congressional delegation to allow timber harvest is probably a good plan.

“But we have to solve the problem now. The commissioners haven’t done anything to solve it. We go to meetings, hear a lot of talk, but there’s been no action,” Empson said.

He said he keeps talking about PERS, the Public Employees Retirement System, being one of the problems.

“Nobody else mentions that, but at least I’m telling them the truth,” Empson said.

He said other candidates are talking about the PERS problem, but they are not giving specific ways to solve it.

Empson said that the county is going to pay 24 percent of employees’ gross pay into the retirement plan next fiscal year.

“It goes to 24 percent in July,” Empson said.

“They have this grandiose plan, put all timber in trust. I hope these plans come to fruition, but I don’t think you can depend on it. We have to solve our own problems,” he said.

“What good is it to solve the long term problem if you’re not a county any more. The short time problem is the biggest problem we have,” Empson said.

“I don’t think we can save our way out of this. I’m for cutting a lot of benefits,” he said. 

Empson said Curry County must look at new ideas.

“I went to Carlsbad, California, and saw an aquafarm,” Empson said.

Carlsbad Aquafarm is Southern California’s only shellfish aquafarm growing eco-friendly mussel, oyster, clam, abalone, scallop and culinary seaweed since 1990. The farm has also developed a secondary line of products for the marine aquaria trade known as “live-feed” that includes micro and macro algae, copepod, amphipod, and brine shrimp.

Empson said that could work in Curry County.

“The most nutritious kelp on the west coast is just outside of Port Orford. Nobody has looked at this,” he said.

“A guy in Crescent City told me he grows abalone in the bay. He didn’t get kelp in Crescent City. He would go to Port Orford,” Empson said.

“I don’t know if you could do that here, but you have to look at things. We need new ideas, not just reruns of ideas,” he said.

Empson said he doesn’t see why the commissioners can’t become part-time and hire a county administrator.

“You could cut the salaries. If you’re going to cut PERS benefits, cut your salary first. Lead by example,” he said.

“I’ve got some good ideas. They can be implemented,” Empson said.

“I wish I could get in there (County Commission). I think I could do some good. We need a real public servant to change things, not somebody looking for a job, not looking for a paycheck,” Empson said. “Maybe if the employees see that, they may be ready to give up some of their benefits.”