GOLD BEACH Curry County is facing a $355,000 budget deficit for fiscal year 2001-02, as projected by Commissioner Marlyn Schafer.

The commissioners are reviewing the budget of each department again this week to see if any money can be squeezed out.

After meeting with three department heads on Monday, however, the commissioners had cut less than $13,000 from the deficit.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont predicted that balancing the budget will come down to cutting employees and services.

We will get to people pretty soon, she said.

Schafer and La Bont differed on what that would mean. Schafer said any possible raise for union employees might go away if we get to the end and nothing can be found.

Thats one theory, said La Bont. Another is reducing people and letting the remainder make some money.

Schafer then invited La Bont to suggest who could be cut.

While that may happen in the near future, the commissioners on Monday concentrated on finding what money they could.

When projecting the budget, Schafer said she figured a maximum of $550 a month each for health insurance for employees and their families.

She also reduced estimated salary increases from 5 percent to 2.9 percent. With those two changes, the projected deficit dropped from more than $500,000 to $355,000.

Schafer said that figure might be optimistic. The March figures arent ready yet, and she doesnt think the county will have as large a cash carry-over at the end of the fiscal year as predicted.

The unions may also have something to say about insurance and salary costs.

On the other hand, Schafer said included in that deficit total were some items she thought would benefit the county in the long run.

She put $50,000 in the budget for capital improvement projects, which she feels is fiscally smart, though it wouldnt begin to pay for repairs to decaying fairgrounds buildings or communications towers.

She also put in $75,000 to buy cars outright, saving the county interest or lease payments. She also wanted to put something aside for a building reserve fund, but didnt do it.

Schafer is trying a new system to account for the cost of doing business for the county. Instead of charging occupancy, insurance, mail, copies and other fees to each department, those costs will all be charged to a new Administrative Services Department fund.

It will not increase or decrease those costs, said Schafer, but make it easier to see what it costs to keep the doors open in county government, before providing any services.

That total is now $480,930 a year. The county receives a little more than $800,000 from county property taxes, so it could provide almost no services without state and federal help.

The commissioners are worried about movements in both state and federal legislatures to reduce funds to county programs.

First up Monday afternoon was Sheriff Kent Owens. The divisions of his office include civil and criminal, corrections, marine patrol, forest patrol, and communications.

He is also in charge of Community Corrections, which includes adult parole and probation, the parks work crew, and the work center.

The commissioners had bad news for Owens on parks, however. Schafer said the new tent sites at Boice-Cope County Park were never approved.

La Bont said the park has only 19 approved camp sites. More than that puts the rest rooms and sewage system over capacity.

She said the park was expanded by former community justice director Ron Mathis without going through any process.

Schafer said the commissioners may double the fees to make up for cutting the number of spaces in half so that the department doesnt lose any revenue. Owens said he appreciated the commissioners bringing the illegal operation to his attention and giving him the opportunity to fix the problem.

I appreciate everything the commissioners are doing to bring the county back into public accountability, he said.

He also thanked them for publicizing the countys needs. I support your efforts, he said.

Beyond emotional support, however, Owens couldnt do much for the commissioners.

Schafer asked, Is there anyplace we could save some money?

There is no place to cut but personnel, said Owens.

He and Capt. Mark Metcalf agreed to give $3,000 in forfeiture revenue to the district attorney to help with his $25,000 deficit for the current fiscal year.

La Bont said there might be ways federal Title 3 funds could be used for county operations on federal lands.

She said they could pay for half the cost of equipment used in search and rescue operations on federal lands. Title 3 funds could also pay the salary of a work crew supervisor for projects done on federal lands.

When it was District Attorney Charlie Steaks turn under the magnifying glass, Schafer asked him if the state had approved any increased reimbursement for county district attorneys. The state mandates the office.

Steak said the ways and means committees are working on the issue statewide, but that he wont know anything until the state budget is passed.

La Bont said the Association of Oregon Counties is pushing for the state to pay more of its share of the district attorneys it requires counties to have.

Its not fair, she said of the current funding level.

As for cutting employees to balance the budget, Steak said, I cant let anyone go.

A lot of other departments say that too, said La Bont.

Steak said, Letting people suffer no consequences for their crimes is unacceptable, morally and politically.

La Bont said its too bad criminals cant be charged for what it costs to prosecute them.

Steak said that cant be done, but victims assistance is almost totally funded by restitution.

Lucy, Im sorry there isnt any more money we can bring to the county, he said.

La Bont said, Well just have to start lobbying ways and means harder. Its a mandated service. The state should pony up. If they just paid for one position it would help.

Schafer said, Everybody has these lean budgets. Its just ridiculous.

Ironically, the commissioners got the most out of Assessor Jim Kolen, who told them, I didnt come in here prepared to give up anything. I cant do the job with less people.

He said his department had two more employees 13 years ago than it does today.

Those people, and their loyalty to Kolen, turned out to be the key to some cost saving, however.

Schafer questioned Kolens estimate of $9,508 for unemployment insurance.

Your people have been there forever, she said.

Kolen admitted he didnt anticipate anyone leaving. He agreed to reduce the unemployment insurance fund by $7,000. He also agreed to reduce his computer replacement fund by $1,200.

La Bont suggested he increase the $1.50 charge for maps to $3.00 each. He said the fee hadnt changed in the 13 years hed been assessor. La Bont said citizens could still come in and look at the maps in the office for free.

That change raised another $1,300. Kolen then cut his motor pool account by $1,000. He added $2,400 more in revenue for computer data updates requested by real estate agents.

In the end, Kolens contributions added up to $12,900.

Youre the first to give up much, said La Bont. She thanked him for leading the way.