Commissioner Court Boice is trying to set a cap on spending the county’s road fund reserves.
The historically wealthy road fund reserve currently has a balance of about $29 million. Oregon state law allows some counties, including Curry, to use road fund reserves to cover budget shortfalls in other departments, such as the sheriff’s office. At a Wednesday board of commissioner’s meeting, Boice suggested disallowing non-departmental spending of the road fund, should the reserves drop below $20 million.
An advocate for decreased county spending, Boice said this move would force departments to take a harder look at their budgets.
“We’ve got to roll up our sleeves, that’s how I see it here...It’s money that we need to guard fiercely, especially until we get our spending under control, and our spending is not under control,” he said.
During the last budget session, the county appropriated $2.2 million from the road fund to balance the budget in the sheriff’s office. However, those funds would go back into the road fund, if the sheriff’s office does not spend them during this fiscal year.
Commissioner Chris Paasch was also in favor of saving the road fund reserve, but said setting a cap would not be effective because a future board could simply remove the cap, and spend the road funds anyway.
Additionally, Paasch was concerned about sending the wrong message to the state, as Governor Kate Brown urged a previous board to use road fund dollars to fund the sheriff’s office in a March 2018 letter, which reads in part:
“I am concerned the ongoing budget cuts and years of scrutiny the Curry County’s public safety budget has received in recent years will have long-term effects on the Sheriff’s ability to recruit and train new officers.”
“As your Governor, I appreciate the challenges that come with deciding how to balance a budget. Setting priorities that reflect the values of your community is a key part of the work you do. Ensuring that your citizens and visitors are safe is without a doubt a key priority, and I hope you do everything you can, including accessing your road fund, to achieve that goal,” wrote Brown.
With the letter in mind, Paasch said setting a cap would be a mistake.
“Those are some of the concerns I have; throwing a red flag into Salem and our current governor,” said Paasch. “I don’t see a reason to do this...I think everyone in this county who has been paying attention knows that we are trying to save the road fund dollars.”
Commissioner John Herzog also expressed a desire to save the road fund, but like Paasch, he was not in favor of setting a cap on road fund expenditures.
Ultimately, the board voted 2-1 not to proceed with creating an ordinance to cap road fund expenditures, with Paasch and Herzog voting against and Boice voting in favor.
“I believe we are not taking tough action here, I feel very strongly about that,” said Boice after the vote.