Curry County will likely shift some departmental duties around after budget discussions and the pending arrival of a new county administrator indicates some jobs might be better addressed under different people.
The issue was discussed in budget meetings May 17 and again on Monday as the county’s budget committee discussed the budgets for planning, building and economic development.
Monday, the committee — comprised of three citizens and the three county commissioners — agreed it would be best to move economic development to the board of commissioner’s office for the new administrator to undertake.
Clark Schroeder will replace interim County Administrator John Hitt on June 4.
The group decided it would move $40,000 of $100,000 proposed for nuisance abatement — addressing dilapidated properties in the county — to economic development, as there are likely only a few properties the county can fully address in a year, said County Attorney John Huttl.
“We’re lucky if we do ‘x’ number of these in any given year,” he said, adding that there are many properties that need to be addressed. “When government destroys someone’s property without their consent, there has to be a lot of process.”
The county is in the process of addressing three such properties, all in Harbor. It involves notification of the property owner, trying to come to an agreement about how to clean up the property, placing a lien on it if they won’t or can’t comply and bulldozing buildings.
Nuisance properties are typically abandoned and falling apart and create a health and safety issue for the neighborhoods. Additionally, they can bring down property values in a community, which might be a way economic development funds can legally pay for their demolition, Huttl said.
The newest budget committee member Bill Ostrowski wanted to know how cleaning up derelict properties helps the community’s economy.
“It’s critical,” said Commissioner Court Boice. “People moving here — even the PR of that gives people a better feeling about (a community).”
“There are far more people knocking on my door asking us to clean up properties around this county than there are those asking about the new Opportunity and Enterprise zones,” Huttle said.
County Accountant Louise Kallstrom noted the code enforcement officer’s job — an unfilled position that involves resolving nuisance property issues — is labor-intensive.
“There are buildings without building permits,” she said, noting the assessor already has a lot of this information. “It’s difficult to have the surveyor go on search and destroy missions, but the assessor is already out there.”
She suggested when such structures are found, the owners either be given a grace period in which to pay the permit fee or be charged double.
County Community Development Director Carolyn Johnson undertook the economic development activities a few years ago, but didn’t think they’d be permanent. Half of her salary is paid for by lottery funds — dedicated to be spent on economic development — and if the ED department is brought under the office of the administrator, her entire department budget needs to be brought into the general fund so she can receive a full salary.
“It’s not a simple flip-flop,” Kallstrom said. “If we’re doing a reorganization that includes taking part of economic development and putting it with the county administrator, we have to reassign all the FTEs (employees and wages) in planning and economic development so the budget balances to reflect that.
“Right now, the budget is balanced,” she said. “If you’re going to change something, I’ll need to balance it again.”
The convoluted discussion of what money went where frustrated budget committee member Carl King, who spoke via phone.
“We have $100,000 of economic development money coming in, and put into the county administrator’s office, and we pay the community development director 100 percent out of the general fund — what’s the difference?” he said. “It’s rearranging the deck chairs. We ought not to be taking this much time on this.”
Ostrowski wanted to know how effective economic development activities have been with the partnership the county has with South Coast Development Council, whose offices are in Coos Bay, but whose work includes that in Curry County.
The organization has assisted Curry County by testifying about Enterprise Zones for new businesses, crafting an economic impact study regarding the Chetco Bar Fire, researching creation of a community forest whose timber revenue would help the county, tourism promotion and as an intermediary between the county and numerous state agencies and nonprofits.
Kallstrom said SCDC has helped Salmon Run golf course in Brookings obtain new equipment, is guiding the owners of Pacific Gales Golf Course in Port Orford through their development process, has helped a data center locate a potential site in the county and other economic development issues.
“The groundwork tasks have to happen before they sign on the dotted line and move a business in,” she said, adding that it takes time — and is difficult to enumerate — how that has helped the community’s bottom line.”
“SCDC becomes our de facto economic development,” Ostrowski said. “I wonder if it doesn’t make sense to see what our new administrator can do.”
He also wanted to know what economic development activities have taken place since the job was moved to the community development department three years ago.
“No one can say, ‘I did this, I did that,’” Kallstrom said, adding that work in the past three years has involved laying groundwork. “Three years from now, if the golf course is up and running, if the Enterprise Zone (attracts new business) … but we’re not three years down the road.”
Budget Committee member Tom Brand suggested in six months, they ask Schroeder how tackling economic development is affecting his other administrative duties.
A public hearing on the approved $54 million budget will be held prior to the county commissioners adopting it and a tax level at their June 20 meeting.