City seeks changes at county level
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
March 29, 2013 09:45 pm

Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog has sent letters to the mayors of Port Orford and Gold Beach asking them to join his city council in urging county commissioners to place on the November ballot a change of government for the county.

The idea stems from Brookings’ officials’ growing lack of confidence in county leadership.

Hedenskog said he originally was confident the new board of county commissioners would institute measures to solve the county’s fiscal problems using the recommendations submitted by the Curry County Citizens Committee nearly 18 months ago.

“I did, (have faith) in January,” he said. “Then a fog started to come in, in February. Now, I am disillusioned that they failed to even listen to some of the critical recommendations that the citizens committee made that had the faith and trust of the community.”

The idea of a change in county government was one of six the Brookings city council presented in motions Monday night. The motions are merely suggestions to the county regarding solutions to its fiscal problems that could be put on the November ballot.

The cities themselves cannot dictate how the county is run, but Brookings city attorney Martha Rice has drawn up a ballot question that any citizen can use to obtain the necessary signatures to get it placed on the ballot.

The letter was initiated after the council learned of the county’s intent to put the tax levy on the May ballot without input from them.

“I thought, ‘Hmmm,’” Hedenskog said. “If they’re going to pull a shenanigan on us, they’re not going to get my support. It’s more powerful to the county if all three cities support or not support the levy in May.”

The city, he said, does not want to be taken over by the state if the ballot measure fails, and the letter was drawn up to show the governor that the cities have viable, alternative plans.

“If the governor feels he needs to step in and make changes to get us out of this predicament, we want to have a say-so,” Hedenskog said. “The cities have a ‘Plan B’ and are trying to get it instituted.”

The first request is to change the form of county government from general law to a home rule charter. That would involve restructuring county government to include a part-time commission board and a full-time county administrative officer.

A second measure would implement a three-year, split-rate property tax levy to fund the Sheriff’s Office, district attorney, juvenile services and emergency management. The proposed split rate is $1.92 per $1,000 assessed value for those in unincorporated areas of the county and 92 cents for those in cities.

During the subsequent three years, the cities and county could pursue a long-term solution for providing public safety to all citizens of the county. Additionally, those tax rates would decrease proportionately to any federal or county transient lodging tax revenue the county receives.

The latter part is contingent on implementing a 6 percent lodging tax — also referenced in the letter — on those staying in lodging accommodations in unincorporated Curry County. Thirty percent of revenue generated from that would go toward county-wide law enforcement with the remainder going toward tourism promotion as required by state law.

The cities already collect these taxes — 6 percent in Gold Beach and Brookings and 7 percent in Port Orford.

The city council also asks in the letter for support in discussions regarding the consolidation of 911 and emergency services, which it proposes to be provided by the existing Brookings communications center.

That would prove valuable if Sheriff John Bishop gets the $1.5 million he’s requesting from the 2013-2014 budget, the bulk of which would go toward jail operations and eliminate 911 and other services.

“Unlike the existing 911 center, the Brookings communications center is located outside the tsunami inundation zone,” Hedenskog wrote in the letter. “We believe it’s technically feasible to provide a quality level of 911 and emergency dispatching services from this facility while reducing the overall cost of these services to all jurisdictions.”

On Friday, Curry County Commissioner David Itzen said the city is “over-reacting” to House Bill 3453 which, if approved by the Oregon Legislature, would let the governor declare an emergency in the county and allow him to consolidate revenue, personnel and other resources to provide and fund public safety services.

“If the city is so concerned about maintaining local control, they should be helping us pass the levy in May,” Itzen said. “If it passes, we will have the resources we need to address most if not all of the city’s concerns.”

Itzen said the county is interested in exploring some of the city’s ideas such as consolidating shared services.

“It’s time we all step back from this confrontational stance and have a calm discussion,” Itzen said.

He said the county commission, during its regular meeting Wednesday, will consider assigning one of the three commissioners as an emissary to begin talks with the city.