Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, June 24 @ 2:10 p.m. / Local Government, Oregon

Curry Official Asks Commissioners to Modify Tax Ordinances, Saying $440k in Marijuana Tax Revenue Earmarked For Sheriff's Office Was 'Sitting Idle'


Curry County Commissioners Approve Fee Increases in Wake Of Levy Vote Failure

Curry County Voters Reject Property Tax Levy Leaving Staff, Elected Officials On Edge of 'Financial Cliff'


As they continue to grapple with a $3.8 million general fund deficit, Curry County commissioners learned that about $440,000 in marijuana retail sales tax revenue had been sitting idle for about five years.

Those dollars were supposed to be used for operations at the sheriff’s office and had been allocated to the general fund, Director of Operations Ted Fitzgerald told commissioners last Thursday. But after the ordinance was amended in 2019, the county lost track of how that money was applied and used, Fitzgerald said.

“We want to remedy that so it doesn’t happen again, so we can keep the sheriff’s office functioning at the most efficient manner possible,” he told commissioners. “The budget committee is recommending that the amendments be rescinded and the funds collected from the marijuana retail sales tax be again deposited into the general fund.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the requested revision to the marijuana retail sales tax ordinance. They also unanimously approved changes to the county’s transient lodging tax code. This modification allows a portion of TLT revenue not allocated for tourism to be deposited into the general fund for distribution.

These changes, along with an update from Fitzgerald on county fees, come about a month after Curry County voters defeated a property tax levy intended to fund a 24-7 sheriff’s department. Since the morning after the May 21 primary election, the Board of Commissioners, budget committee and county staff have been trying to figure out how to cut 41 percent from the general fund.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to adopt the county’s 2024-25 budget at a special meeting this Thursday. Commissioners will also discuss a resolution imposing property taxes of $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value next fiscal year.

The elimination of a budget official position and proposed fee increases are also on Thursday’s agenda.

Last week, Fitzgerald said the current budget process he and his staff has been going through this year has shed light on a lack of transparency in the way revenue had been accounted for in previous budgets.

Fitzgerald said this is the first year since he began working for Curry County about two years ago that he and his staff have had accurate numbers and accurate representations from the county treasurer.

“I think it was just a misunderstanding of the statutes,” Fitzgerald said. “For example, we have marijuana sales tax revenue that comes in. That money had been designated to the sheriff’s office for use in its operations, but it was not expressed in the budget in a way that you could see it. It was overlooked year by year.”

According to Fitzgerald, the reason for this is because there was an improper interpretation of the law.

“For some reason, it was kind of assumed that you were supposed to keep tax revenues that were generated secret,” he said. “I don’t know where that comes from because that flies in the face of the entire taxation in a representative republic.”

When it comes to transient lodging taxes, 70 percent of those dollars are allocated toward tourism and tourism promotion. About 30 percent of that revenue is unrestricted and, up until last Thursday, most of it was allocated toward the sheriff’s office, according to Fitzgerald.

He argued that while the sheriff’s office would likely use those dollars since it’s “our biggest need within the county,” the budget committee and Board of Commissioners needs to figure out how to allocate those dollars.

“It was the recommendation of the budget committee that those restrictions be rescinded and moneys that were specifically held just for the sheriff’s office use be reallocated into the general fund so the budget committee and commissioners can make the actual determination about how revenues are supposed to be distributed,” Fitzgerald said.

Commissioner Jay Trost suggested further changes to how the county’s TLT revenue is allocated. Of the 70 percent in TLT revenue that’s earmarked for tourism, about half of that goes toward facility needs at the Curry County Fairgrounds, Trost said. The county should be in charge rather than the Fair Board, he said

“When a facility project comes up, the Fair Board [would make] a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners to transfer those dollars over for said project,” Trost said. “In the past, it’s been directly transferred into their account and we saw some misspending of those dollars that were outside of the parameters of tourism and promotion. I think if we put these safeguards in place it would prevent that kind of spending from occurring.”

Currently the Fair Board must obtain approval from the Board of Commissioners for any kind of spending, according to Fitzgerald. Trost proposed setting cost threshold that automatically requires the Fair Board to seek commissioners’ approval.

“It just seems like if we’re not putting systems in place to protect our county assets after we’re gone, then I think we’re not fully doing our service,” he said.

Though the tax levy failed last month, the Board of Commissioners got some positive feedback, and constructive criticism, from two of their constituents.

Lynn Coker, of Gold Beach, said the levy’s failure was a request that the county live within its means. But he praised the “dedication and professionalism” shown by Curry’s elected officials.

“That’s across the board, both the Board of Commissioners and the clerks and assessor and such,” he said. “It’s humbling to see the kind of dedication we get from the budget committee. That is pretty amazing to watch those men jump in and wrestle this thing to the ground.”

Another Gold Beach resident, Mark Nast, passed along a criticism from one of his neighbors — “they ask for too much.” Nast said he realized that the levy would result in a “big hit on my property tax.” He asked why commissioners didn’t try a tiered approach to the proposed tax levy.

“What you guys did, I think, is quite different than what has been done before,” he said. “You brought information to the table that hadn’t been brought to the table before… and I would like to be part of the brainstorming that has got to take place with regards to what we are going to have to try to do differently this time around.”

The Curry County Board of Commissioners will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at 94235 Moore Street in Gold Beach. Agenda packets are available here. Meetings are streamed live on YouTube.


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