Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

County’s budget plan could hinge on reserve funds

Staffing levels will be maintained as the county backfills losses of state revenue
News Editor
   April 23, 2003 — The county's budget committee on Friday completed work on a roughly $24.2 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year — doing its best to maintain services in the third consecutive year of flat revenue growth.
   After days of testimony, and hours of haggling during deliberations Friday, the budget committee completed a proposal that's largely a "wait and see" plan that could require dipping into reserve funds.
   "The county's ability to meet the services it does meet is because of the management at the county level and the employees," said Roy Hyder of Metolius, the budget committee's chairman.
   The county began this fiscal year with $1.2 million in starting funds and projects roughly the same amount come July 1. However, the starting funds projected for July 1, 2004, are penciled in at $546,578.
   County Administrator Mike Morgan said that number is a low, safe estimate.
   "I'm here to say we'll have more than that," he said.
   The budget committee was able to maintain current staffing levels despite the fact the county's payroll expenses are projected to increase from $8 million to $8.7 million. The budget will pay the equivalent of 166.1 full-time staff — little change from this year's equivalent of 167.9 full-time employees.
   Average salaries have increased 22 percent since 1998, but health insurance costs have grown double that at 41 percent while PERS payments have skyrocketed by 95 percent.
   Anticipated revenue from property taxes is down about $16,000 from a year ago. This is the third year of virtually no growth in that revenue source, which can be traced to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs' acquisition of one-third of Portland General Electric's dams on the Deschutes River.
   But the real challenge this year was compensating for losses of federal and state grants. Services provided by Adult Community Corrections, the Juvenile Department, mental health providers, the tobacco prevention program and the Commission on Children and Families are being reduced.
   The county has backfilled several positions and funding streams, but the consequence is the expected dip into reserve funds.
   "We're trying to find funding for projects in others ways," said County Commission Chairman Walt Ponsford, a member of the budget committee. "It won't surprise me if we can't do everything as well as before, but it'll be close."
   During budget deliberations Friday, the six committee members haggled over pet projects with what little wiggle room they were allowed.
   The committee restored complete funding from transient occupancy tax revenue to the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the Fairgrounds after an initial proposal to scale each of them back by $2,500. The committee also chose to maintain the Crooked River Ranch Chamber of Commerce's funding at $7,500 although it had asked for double the revenue. The Madras-Jefferson County Chamber will again receive $50,000.
   The caveat, however, is that each entity will see reductions in funding proportionally should transient tax revenue not meet projections. Budget committee members admitted that scenario is highly likely.
   Nevertheless, Madras-Jefferson County Chamber director Parrish Van Wert praised the commitment.
   "I believe it is an affirmation in the belief that the commissioners have in economic development and tourism and that the role that those two play in our economic health," he said.
   The budget committee diverted $55,000 from the county's revolving loan fund to the District Attorney's Office to create a new, full-time investigator and raise several employees' work weeks from 37 1/2 hours to 40.
   The committee also budgeted an additional $55,000 to the planning department for the creation of a code enforcement officer on the condition that the board of commissioners find sufficient revenue in the coming months. Otherwise, it'll be yanked.
   The county's 911 services received funding for one new dispatcher, although it had asked for two new positions. That would have given 911 the ability to have two dispatchers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
   Several pet projects were scratched during deliberations, most notably a proposal from Mary Zemke to raise the wages of the county's 10 lowest-paid employees to $24,000 each.
   The Jefferson County Commission is not expected to adopt the budget formally until June.