Curry County Commissioner Court Boice has outlined a lengthy list of goals for the remainder of his term — but the top one is to have $2 million in a general fund reserve.
The county, along with 17 others in Oregon, is in financial dire straits since the government discontinued disbursement of timber sale receipts on federal lands. Property taxes — the lowest in the state, at $0.599 per $1,000 valuation — provide $2.6 million toward basic county operations.
Very little has been discussed in recent years regarding how to improve the county’s financial situation, and every ballot measure asking voters to increase property taxes has failed. In the meantime, the county has spun entire departments — public health, hospice and animal control among them — to nonprofit organizations and made tens of thousands of dollars worth of departmental cuts.
From the top
Boice said the fastest and best way to improve the financial situation of the county is to support the Association of Oregon O&C Counties’ litigation, which is demanding the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service live up to their contractual agreements and allow timber cutting.
“They are not living up to their contractual agreements to Oregon rural counties,” Boice said in a report. “Curry grows the best timber in the world, trees that are renewable and the best resource in the entire U.S. This is an annual garden that needs the very best management and wisest harvest.”
He suggests sending the federal agencies a property tax bill at the same rate private timber property owners are charged.
“That could get national attention and could encourage the departments of Interior and Agriculture to return some of our public lands,” he said. “We deserve a chance to at least co-manage our lands.”
He would like to have the U.S. Forest Service transfer its campgrounds and other recreational facilities to the county.
“County Parks (department) has the capacity to easily manage these parks and handle more responsibility,” Boice said. “It would bring additional funds, employment and tourism promotion back to Curry County.”
And he would like to pass a county ordinance addressing “unnecessary” land use and environmental lawsuits.
That would require preservation activist groups to get a $50,000 bond for a permit, the cost of which is based on the potential threat of a lawsuit to the county budget. Part of such an ordinance would require economic impact and environmental studies before any natural resource hearings could be held, and would refuse to recognize any entity that doesn’t present a minimum of two independent studies.
And he would like to create a county forestry department by working with private timber-land owners and ask for small stands of private land to be “contributed back to the county.”
This would protect private company investments and help other agencies manage the forests for fire, habitat restoration, roads and environmental issues, he said.
Boice also proposes to craft a Veterans, Housing and Child Poverty (and) County Emergency Declaration and develop a “food sovereignty policy” and a housing plan at the municipal and county levels, particularly to craft planning, zoning and permitting processes to address the housing shortage.
In Curry County
In the south end of the county, Boice proposes the county sign a “joint powers agreement” with the city of Brookings to assume 50 percent ownership of the Brookings Airport.
As part of the agreement, the 14 county-owned acres adjacent to the airport would be included in the deal, and costs and responsibilities would be shared.
Currently, the airport is under the jurisdiction of the county, but negotiations are underway to transfer to the city, which is in a better financial situation to develop it.
Boice would also like the county to take a more active management role in the Cape Blanco Airport north of Port Orford.
At the north end of the county, Boice proposes the county develop, sell or trade 500 acres of residentially-zoned land between Floras Lake and Cape Blanco Airport, recruit a developer or offer it to an environmental group.
“It has been dormant for years and should be part of our solution,” Boice said. “It also needs to be cruised for possible timber harvest; however, this is a beautiful area that should have more value as potential home-sites and would help solve the lack of buildable land and housing needs.”
He also would like to pick up where the County Real Property Task Force recommendations left off, implement a program for a real estate cooperative to sell many county properties.
“Moving those properties is a good clean-up, and will generate interest and some economic activity overall,” he said. “People could purchase or donate funds in memory of others or as small parks or plots in their names.”
A topic that has been brought up in the past but never pursued — consolidating the sheriff’s office and the county’s three city police departments — is another way Boice believes the county could save money.
“This would wisely form one large agency, resulting in better coverage for the entire county, more effective peacekeeping, less duplication and less expense,” he said. “This plan would ultimately be safer and more secure both for the public and our law enforcement personnel. Protecting our citizens is our No. 1 and my most important obligation as a public official.”
He would like all the county taxing districts — there are 41, not including the schools — to give 10 percent of the revenue they receive to the county to mitigate the county’s cost of processing their taxes.
He believes this could raise about $1 million for the general fund.
Boice would also like to secure a loan from the County Road Reserve Funds for the sheriff’s budget. Currently, the county is allowed by state law to take money from the reserve fund for sheriff’s patrol operations and some of 911 costs.
But Boice believes a loan up to $1.5 million — the past several years of transferring money from road reserves to the sheriff’s office has been called everything from a loan to “a taking” — at a 3 percent interest rate could garner the county about $1.5 million. He also proposes figuring the interest costs on the money borrowed so far and returning that to county coffers.
He also proposes loaning an additional $2.5 million to the Port of Brookings Harbor for its infrastructure needs and $1.5 million to Curry Health Network to open its promised emergency room in Brookings.
Loans like this, at 3 percent interest, would garner a far greater return than what they earn in the county’s portfolio that sometimes tops 1.0 percent.
But it is unknown if the sheriff or port would be interested in the offer. The board of the health network can’t borrow any more money at the moment and isn’t interested in the proposal, its board members have said.
Regardless, Boice believes the county commissioners should take a more active role in the county’s investments.
“If Curry County collapses into any form of bankruptcy or insolvency, it is likely that those funds would unfortunately be taken over by the state of Oregon as well our county road department itself,” he said.
Other ideas he proposes include:
•Moving commissioner meeting records to the county clerk’s office, and having meetings recorded by a “independent and neutral party, preferably an elected official” to get the county caught up on months worth of yet-to-be-approved meeting minutes,
•Creating a community economic development and recovery strategy using Internet domain names the county already has to compete with other counties and municipalities for new business,
•Pursue block grants through the state, and
•Work with elected federal officials to transfer deferred federal “sanctuary city” funds back to rural areas.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .