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Tighter county budget expected because of construction slowdown


   The slow construction industry, coupled with rising energy costs, is expected to result in a tighter budget for Crook County in the upcoming months. The new county budget comes out at the end of April.
   "We basically are looking at a flat budget, as far as growth on the revenue side due to the fall-off of the construction industry," said Crook County Judge Scott Cooper. "We'll have about a 1.2 percent increase in property tax revenue because of the changing of the valuations and the fact that nobody's building anything. By the time we crunch all the numbers, some of our big cost drivers will be increasing cost of personnel, medical insurance for employees, and fuel cost is one we're going to have to grapple with this year."
   He mentioned that energy costs are also a large factor driving increased county expenditures.
   "My best guess is that we are around $290,000 short in the general fund," Cooper added. "On the road fund, the big issue there is the pending loss of the county payments. I don't think anybody assumes, at this point, that we're going to have county payments restored, so that's a $2.4 million reduction."
   With that being said, the county did not anticipate receiving county payments last year and was able to make budget adjustments accordingly. The county payments account for about 60 percent of the road department's budget.
   "We actually will just continue business as usual in the road department, largely utilizing the landfill as a backfill to the loss of county payments, so you shouldn't see a significant change of operations," Cooper said.
   However, road department costs are closely tied to energy costs and the cost of oil has a large amount to do with how much service the road department can provide, Cooper explained.
   "We'll probably have the same budget, but the budget won't stretch as far because the primary component of asphalt is oil, and oil is costing a lot more than it did a year ago," he said. "Crook County is particularly impacted because we are so heavily dependent on the construction and real estate markets."
   Cooper also mentioned that the county is well-equipped to endure a short-term slump in the economy. Crook County operates on a surplus, and a large amount of the federal funding comes from county payments. The main sources of revenue for the county are split between property taxes, federal revenue (which makes up the county payments) and state revenue. The principal use of property tax funds is for law enforcement purposes and 80 percent of the property tax dollars collected go to support public safety.
   "We actually are in very good shape heading into the year to weather a short-term downturn in the economy," Cooper said. "I think our concerns are more long-term in nature. We're much better positioned than many other counties in Oregon to be able to weather a short-term down turn."
   The county has also cut back a prudent reserve of funds from the previous year, and Cooper stated there is enough to even things out as they go along.
   "We don't have to adjust next year to deal with a revenue shortfall and we probably have a couple of years to make adjustments," he said. "I think it's a flat, careful maintenance budget. It is essential in the long term that we see construction kick back in at the state and national level or we do have big storm clouds on the horizon."