Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, June 28 @ 3:26 p.m. / Local Government, Oregon

Curry County Dipped Into Roads Fund To Adopt A Budget That Includes Staffing Cuts, Department Reorgs, Fee Increases; $1.18 Million Gap Remains, Finance Director Says



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Curry County leaders laid off staff, eliminated positions and used $1.18 million in interest revenue from its Road Department reserves to bring what they say is a balanced budget before two commissioners Thursday.

But there’s still a $1.18 million budget gap, Finance Director Keina Wolf warned. And it will widen unless an alternate revenue source is found.

“This year’s focus should be on bringing new revenue sources that will help offset the increasing costs of personnel and services,” Wolf said in her budget message to the Board.

At about $64.9 million, Curry County’s total combined budget for fiscal year 2024-25 is nearly $2.257 million less than the previous year, according to Wolf. Curry County had used one-time funds in the fiscal year 2023-24 budget. This year, while county revenues “remain essentially unchanged,” personnel services and materials have gotten more expensive, prompting department reorganizations and staff layoffs, Wolf said.

Layoffs will start next month, she said.

More than 17 people will lose their county jobs, Commissioner Brad Alcorn said just before he and his colleague Jay Trost adopted the budget.

“The dust is far from settled for sure,” Alcorn said. “But it’s just a very unfortunate set of circumstances that [doesn’t] leave too many alternatives.”

Their third colleague, John Herzog, was absent. Director of Operations Ted Fitzgerald said Herzog was ill and had to go home.

Thursday's special meeting

The “unfortunate set of circumstances” Alcorn referred to came about after Curry County voters rejected a proposed property tax levy for law enforcement in Oregon’s May 21 primary election. At a meeting of the county’s budget committee the morning after the election, Wolf said they would have to figure out how to cut 41 percent from the general fund before the proposed budget came before commissioners for adoption.

The county was grappling with a $3.8 million general fund deficit, Wolf said on May 22. The Board of Commissioners had to submit its adopted 2024-25 budget to the Oregon Department of Revenue by July 1 or face audits and a potential loss in federal and state funds, according to the finance director.

On Thursday, after hearing Wolf's budget message, Trost said that Curry County had also decreased its reliance on the Road Department Reserve fund to balance its budget this year by $2.1 million. This is in addition to the $2.257 million that was cut from the previous year's budget that had been one-time funding, he said.

Though he acknowledged that $1.18 million in Road Reserve dollars still contributed to the budget he and Alcorn adopted, Trost argued that it was reduced by a total of roughly $4.1 million.

"If we were looking at being completely balanced, we would be reducing [the budget] by $4.1 million plus the $1.18 million," he said.

Alcorn said with no real revenue coming into the county, the challenge is figuring out how to come up with a funding solution.

"We made an agreement that we would propose a funding solution," he said referring to the failed tax levy. "We did and we also agreed during that time that we would live wtihin our means."

In addition to adopting the budget, commissioners set the property tax rate at about $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value. They also set the tax rate for the Curry County 4H and Extension Service District at $0.12 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

They approved fee increases in the Planning Department and extended a contract with Pacific Geographic Consultants LLC for six months for offsite planning work.

Fitzgerald said a half-time intake position in the Planning Department will be available next fiscal year. They will distribute projects to the county planner and to the county’s surveyor, who is also a part-time employee.

Fitzgerald noted that there are fees associated with services at the Planning Department.

“We want to keep our costs down within those fees and make the place pay for itself based on the work we’ve done,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to work with some outside consultants.”

The planning department fee increases, and other fee increases commissioners approved on June 10 and June 20, will take effect Monday.

Commissioners also eliminated the following positions: a code compliance officer, the Board of Commissioners’ administrative assistant, two planners, deputy clerk 1 as well as a Sheriff’s Office captain, two detectives and a sergeant/K9 position.

Ten road deputy positions were eliminated — of those, three were vacant, according to the order commissioners approved Thursday. Open deputy treasurer, building maintenance and emergency management positions were also eliminated, according to Fitzgerald

Commissioners also reclassified a building official position. According to Fitzgerald, this action is due to the 2024-25 budget defunding and eliminating a code compliance officer that was under the director of Garrett Thompson, the county’s building official.

According to Fitzgerald, Thompson had been a supervisor and had received an increase in pay as a result of taking on the code compliance officer position.

“Since that position was eliminated as part of the budget reduction, we’re just rolling [Thompson] back to his original position,” Fitzgerald said.

Also on Thursday, Fitzgerald spoke to changes in the Curry County Clerk’s office, which involves the elimination of one of three deputy clerk positions and the creation of a supervisor of elections position.

The supervisor of elections position isn’t new, County Clerk Shelley Denney told commissioners, though it hasn’t been filled since she left the position about 10 years ago.

“For the benefit of the citizens and my office, I feel like this is a better position to have than a Deputy Clerk II,” she said.

Toward the end of Thursday’s special meeting, Alcorn said Curry County is “ultimately resetting from the ground up.” County leaders plan to put out a press release soon to explain what the public will likely see as a result of the changes they made.

Once those reductions are made, Alcorn said, he and his colleagues will figure out what their options are moving forward.

“The public should also expect to see some department heads coming into our meetings and providing some statistical information, metrics, of where we’re at,” he said. “I think that will be hopeful in the long run.”


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