Curry County commissioners dissolved the budget committee Wednesday, saying one of the three members doesn’t live in the north end of the county as required, thus leaving that area unrepresented on the board.
Other reasons cited included inconsistencies regarding when terms begin and end.
The dissolution of the budget committee prompted Carl King, who also sits on the Citizens Revenue Task Force, to promptly resign from his seat on that board — and he’s now urging voters not to vote for the May ballot question that group crafted — and the BOC approved — to put a transient lodging tax (TLT) in unincorporated Curry County.
Budget committee members represent the entire county, but are appointed, in part, on their place of residence. The Board of Commissioners (BOC) prefers to appoint one from the south, central and north ends of the counties as roughly defined by Curry County’s school districts.
The budget committee is comprised of the three county commissioners and citizen members Carl King of Nesika Beach, his neighbor Bill Ostrowski and Tom Brandt of the Brookings area. Each member is appointed to a three-year term, all with different ending dates.
King has served one term on the committee and helped craft three budgets; he sat in the audience for two budget discussions prior to that. Brandt is in the third year of his first term. Ostrowski is in his second year of his first term on the committee.
King does not plan to reapply for his position.
Brandt and Ostrowski could not be reached for comment.
And now what?
The county is now seeking volunteers to replace all three on the budget committee in time to discuss and craft the 2019-20 budget — a situation Commissioner Court Boice said will be accomplished.
“Oh, heavens, yes,” he said. “We’ve got solutions in the works for every aspect of this county. We inherited some real issues; what we do in the next 20 weeks is going to affect us for the next 20 years. We’ll get it done.”
Department heads hold budget meetings beginning Feb. 11 to outline their needs for the upcoming fiscal year, followed by a BOC workshop March 27. The committee then convenes with department heads — last year it was for five full days — May 13 to craft the budget. The budget is slated for adoption June 19.
King wonders why the BOC didn’t merely remove Ostrowski, who lives south of Arizona Beach and therefore isn’t technically a North County resident. He was appointed when Sam Scaffo of Port Orford didn’t apply for another term; addresses on the applications were redacted, King said.
“But gee whiz, they chose to dissolve the committee,” King said. “Get rid of Tom Brand and Carl King who voted against the salary (change) and all three of them who questioned the increased cost of recent personnel changes.”
Boice had asked the BOC to rescind Ostrowski’s appointment when he applied, but was outvoted. Ostrowski also served on the board as chairman to help craft the 2018-19 budget.
“Come January 7 and composition of the BOC changes, and suddenly we must fix this grave injustice that one of the three citizens appointed to serve the entire county does not live in North County?” King said. “There was a much simpler solution to this. Remove Bill and appoint whomever (they) wanted from North County. I’m not at all surprised.”
“That would have looked personal,” Boice said. “We have a lot of housekeeping to do. He and Carl only live few miles apart. They can decide if they want to re-apply — I’ve encouraged them to reapply. It’s nothing personal. We need to start over and be ready, be fully prepared for budget meetings.”
King noted that Ostrowski was the only citizen member of the committee who voted to reinstate commissioner salaries earlier this month. The previous board had all taken salary cuts — Commissioners Tom Huxley and Sue Gold took $10,000 stipends and Boice agreed to cut his salary by $20,000. When the new board was seated after November elections, those salaries were established for each seat, and the BOC voted last week to reinstate them to historic levels of $66,500.
The BOC also hired a new director of operations to replace County Administrator Clark Schroeder, needs to find funds to replace the sheriff’s tower communications equipment and other issues the budget committee must consider when it meets.
King noted, too, that the BOC agenda was amended twice in the week leading up to Wednesday’s meeting. The first change removed board discussion of a Second Amendment item; the third included the dissolution. King said he didn’t know of the proposed dissolution of the budget committee until the morning of the meeting.
The task force
The task force was convened by county commissioners to brainstorm ideas for long-term, sustainable revenue sources for the county; it includes King, Ostrowski, Ron Crook, Dave Hoenie, Catherine Wiley, Ryan Grummond and Emily Rumiano.
The BOC promised to let them work without interference from commissioners — but that hasn’t happened, King said.
Since the task force recommended and the BOC approved placing a transient lodging tax on the ballot in May, King wrote, “at least one of the commissioners” has lobbied members of the task force to endorse a general consumption or sales tax and attended the task force’s last meeting saying “he was elected and not bound by the prior pledge of independence,” King wrote.
Boice tried unsuccessfully in 2017 and 2018 to create a committee to develop ideas to increase revenue to general fund, and feels a representative from the BOC should attend those meetings.
“That was a decision I opposed,” Boice said of the BOC’s decision regarding the task force’s independence. “One of us (he or Commissioner Chris Paasch) wanted to be there; we basically flipped a coin.”
King said Boice was trying to influence the task force regarding a restaurant tax he supports. In Oregon, only Ashland and Yachats have such taxes.
“I didn’t make any demands,” Boice said. “I just represented the people. I wasn’t there to push anything. I did comment on the restaurant tax — we’re not Ashland; we don’t have enough restaurants.”
King thinks Boice’s attendance and comments could set precedent and influence future board discussion. And he said it worries him in regards to the lodging tax that will appear on the May special election ballot.
“Our task force made a commitment to the event center and members of the tourism industry on how the TLT revenue would be spent,” King wrote in his resignation letter
He said the situation has cast doubts in his mind about the BOC following through on its plans to divy up TLT revenue as approved, knowing that any future board can rescind the actions of a previous board.
If the TLT is approved, state law requires 70 percent of the revenue collected from the 7 percent tax go toward tourism promotion. The task force recommended spending 35 percent of the remainder to help renovate the Event Center at the Beach, 25 percent to fund sheriff patrol deputies and have a committee determine how to spend the remainder on additional tourism promotion.
“Today, I have no confidence that the current board of commissioners will keep that commitment,” King said. “I cannot in good conscience ask the event center and members of the tourism industry to support, or the taxpayers to vote for, the measure that will be on the May ballot.”