Smith: One-time payment won’t save county

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer October 04, 2013 09:37 pm

“By the end of this (fiscal) year, regardless of this one-time payment, the county will have less than $1 million in its coffers to function from July to November, 2014,” he told a citizen who asked the board how the SRS payment would affect next year’s budget. “We’ll still need to borrow close to $1 million to bridge those months to keep the doors open and the lights on.”

The fate of county funding is currently in the hands of voters who, on Nov. 5, will approve or reject Measure 8-73, which asks to raise property taxes by $1.35 per $1,000 assessed valuation. It would bring the county’s share of tax revenue to $1.94 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

“You just got another $1 million,” said Terry Breyer, who sits on the Fiscal Independence Committee, a citizen’s group formed by Commissioner Susan Brown to address county financial woes. “Why do you need $1.35 (tax rate) when it could (now) be $1.15 or less?”

It’s too late to change the ballot question now, commissioners noted, and it’s too early to discuss if — and what — changes could be made at this point.

The SRS payment has numerous caveats, as well, noted Rocky McVay, executive director of O&C Counties.

The total, which is already 5 percent less than what was appropriated in 2012, is merely a rough estimate.

That amount, he said, represents the “full amount,” including Title II and III funds, both of which address public education. Any sequestration of funds that might occur as Congress tries to balance the federal budget could affect the final amount paid.

The bottom line could also be affected by any of the 18 O&C counties’ “per-capita income” rates or “eligible federal acres.” And increases to other O&C counties based on how the formula is applied could also reduce other counties’ relative share of the appropriation.

The one thing that won’t change is the fact that the county board must meet its budget for the upcoming year.

Current property tax revenue brings $1.4 million to county coffers. The increased tax rate would bring in an additional $2.1 million. To bridge the revenue gap for this fiscal year, which ended in July, commissioners “borrowed” $950,000 from the county road fund and other money from the unemployment reserve.

Breyer said he wonders if the just-announced SRS payment could make the county’s tax proposal a harder sell to voters.

Indeed, commissioners have noted that themselves — particularly Brown, who vehemently fought to put the county tax rate question on the May 2014 ballot so it wouldn’t compete with other tax questions in November.

As it stands, voters in Port Orford will cast ballots on the county tax measure, a Curry Health Network question asking for $10 million over 30 years to build a new hospital in Gold Beach and a $1.90 per $1,000 valuation — representing a 59 cents per $1,000 increase — to continue funding its own city police department.

Some have said that the more tax questions a voter faces, the more likely they are to vote all of them down.

All the elected officials — Brown only did after Commissioner David Itzen held her to a vote — voted to support the Nov. 5 tax measure in a resolution Wednesday. The resolution, Smith said, is to be passed out to elected officials to share with citizens.

“I recognize that this county measure is no small amount of money for people,” said County Assessor Jim Kolen before he signed. “A lot of people in Curry County are having difficulty. But this measure does support a set of services that I’d prefer not to do without.

“We never got a clear answer about what we’d do without a jail,” he continued. “How we’d deal with reduced DA, juvenile services. This is an important time in Curry County. I know it will be difficult, but I hope people will consider what we might lose.”