<BR> Changes with the county involve foreign investments, ending feuds and fire safety
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
Declaring their view that U.S. taxpayer funds ought to be invested in U.S. companies, Crook County Treasurer Kathy Gray and Crook County Judge Scott Cooper have announced that the county has completely divested itself of foreign controlled holdings.
Crook County trades foreign holdings for U.S. companies
Gray completed the sale of nearly $1.5 million in stock in late February. The holdings eliminated included just over $981,070 invested in British Telecomm and just over $479,000 invested in German automaker DaimlerChrysler. The county replaced its ownership of the two companies with shares of Goldman Sachs, an American investment company, and General Electric Co.
Oregon law allows state and local government to invest in domestically controlled securities; however, the state prohibits buying foreign-owned stock. The county has not been in violation of the law, Gray said, because the investments were in U.S. subsidiaries of the two companies.
However, Gray said that dumping the investments was a decision she and Cooper discussed shortly after they were both sworn in on January 2 and felt strongly about. "While the investments were legal, we both feel it is important to support tax-paying, U.S. companies as a matter of principle," Gray said.
The county investment pool, controlled by the elected county treasurer with direction from the county court, is slightly more than $18 million. Approximately 21 percent is invested in commercial papers, while the majority is invested with insured financial institutions.
Crook County and Crooked River Roundup bury the hatchet
The Crook County Court buried the hatched with the Crook River Roundup Association last week, agreeing to pay $16,000 in rent owed by the Roundup to the county fairgrounds.
The court took the action barely two years after the non-profit Roundup Association sued the county in a dispute over contract terms.
That suit resulted in a court-imposed settlement, requiring the county to displace other users in order to accommodate the Roundup's use of the fairgrounds to host rodeo and racing events, and binding the Roundup to a pay schedule for use of the facility over five years.
At the time of the court settlement, the Roundup received substantial income from state lottery funds. Recent changes in the distribution of lottery funding, however, has left small race meets around the state, including the Roundup, without adequate funds to attract top horses and jockeys. Additional funding provided by the state from a tax on internet gambling, was supposed to make up for the loss of lottery funds, but hasn't developed as rapidly as expected, Roundup Director Doug Smith told the court.
Faced with the possibility of canceling the races, the Roundup board decided to approach the court with a request for forgiveness of one year's rent.
Last week, the county court unanimously granted the group's request, on a one-time basis, adding a condition that the group release its financial statements to the public before receiving any funds.
The court will transfer money from lottery proceeds it receives from the state to the Roundup to cover the group's rent. In the interim, Roundup Director Sheryl Rhoden says the group will pursue corporate sponsorships to keep Crook County's 50-year plus tradition of summer horse racing alive.
Following the meeting, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper commented, "The Roundup rodeo and races are an important part of Prineville's heritage. They bring tourism dollars to the community, and they provide entertainment for county residents. The court feels comfortable that this investment is in the long-term best interests of the community, and we are delighted at this opportunity to restore a good working relationship between the county and the Roundup Association.
Courthouse to get fire alarms
While the recent earthquake in the Seattle area caused lots of property damage there, it was only slightly felt this far south. However, to be safe, the Crook County courthouse was evacuated during that shaky morning. Soon, though, after making sure there was no damage, county employees returned to work.
A day or so later, the subject of evacuation procedures and fire safety was brought to County Judge Cooper)s attention. A delegation approached Cooper to talk about installing an alarm system. This, Cooper said later, was the first indication he had that the building has no central fire alarm. Calling Greg Hinshaw, the courthouse maintenance supervisor, Cooper asked about it.
"Greg said that the only alarm is a bell outside the building," Cooper said. "I was told there is also a means of notifying everyone in the courthouse with our telephone system. You punch the pound sign and dial two numbers and it rings all phones. I asked what the two numbers are, and nobody seems to know. I guess I could call the phone company and they would tell us. But what happens if everyone doesn)t pick up the phone? Would the warning alarm be connected to our voice-mail system?" he wondered with a shake of his head?
However, the situation will be corrected. Cooper instructed Hinshaw to have a fire alarm system installed. The work is expected to take a week or so.