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<BR>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;County finances in good health

The county's redesigned budget for the next fiscal year has been finalized by the budget committee and is described as being a "a very strong management
The county's redesigned budget for the next fiscal year has been finalized by the budget committee and is described as being a "a very strong management tool"
   The Crook County budget for fiscal year 2001-2002 is just about ready, and this time there will be no call for any budget cutting.
   Last year, county department heads were told to find a way to cut seven percent from their budget. The FY 2000-2001 county budget was about $8.03 million. Paring off seven percent meant reducing about $620,000 from that. This year the budget, which County Judge Scott Cooper calls a "strong management tool, totals $8.8 million.
   However, County Treasurer Kathy Gray explained that the budget has been reworked this year and a lot of the separate funds in last year's budget have been combined in this year's document. Actually, the same general fund budget for the two years are about the same, she said.
   The following has been excerpted from the county budget message.
   This is the first budget prepared by a new county judge and a new county treasurer (also acting as budget officer). As one might expect, this budget contains new ideas and new approaches reflecting new leadership.
   "Crook County is fortunate," Cooper said, "to have Kathy Gray working for them. She has been extraordinarily flexible to work with. This was not only her first budget, but she was willing to work on a new approach. I must have changed this three times a day trying to work things out, and she was right there to help."
   The budget addresses recommendations made by the county)s auditor in a 1999 letter to management. The auditor recommended a significant reduction in the number of funds maintained by the county in the interests of simplifying the budget document. This budget is prepared with that in mind, and proposes that the current 71 funds be reduced to eight:
   General Fund
   Road Fund
   Fairground Fund
   Grants Fund
   Reserve Fund
   Debt Service Fund
   In addition, the county will continue to maintain a number of custodial funds on behalf of other government agencies.
   The primary impact of reducing the number of funds is to allow better cash flow management. By law, individual funds must be in the black at all times. At various times, this has created a significant burden on grant-funded programs which must expend monies and wait for reimbursement.
   In some cases in the past, the county has simply been unable to comply with this law and maintain operations. By pooling grants into a single fund while still utilizing a departmental structure, the county is able to allow cash-flush funds to cover anticipated reimbursements from cash-depleted funds. This will allow the county to comply with Oregon law and manage its programs to the greatest benefit of taxpayers.
   Compensation
   This budget, in conjunction with a new policy on employee evaluation, finalizes the effort undertaken by the court in recent years to establish a regular, predictable and equitable compensation system for county employees. The budget envisions a two-tier structure for determining compensation. First, all employees are granted a 2.9 percent cost of living increase.
   In addition, the budget proposes an additional allocation to each department of the county for "merit" increases, to be granted by individual department heads in the form of additional "step" ratings during employee evaluations. The merit pay to be granted is a proposed 3.1 percent of the prior year's personal services budget for non-grant-funded positions. The structure firmly places responsibility on department heads to manage their personnel compensation according to their personal evaluation of the contribution of individual employees and places clear "sideboards" around the amount of funds committed to personal services.
   The budget does not include a formula to address compensation for grant-funded positions, which are subject simply to the amount of grant funding available and can only be determined on an individual basis.
   The budget addresses the issue of compensation for elected officials by allocating a six percent increase to each position-a figure comparable to the increase allocated to all other employees. Although the exact amount of elected-official compensation is still subject to the recommendation of the compensation committee and final approval of the county court, this amount at least sets a marker that will not likely be exceeded in that process.
   The budget committee has scheduled a meeting for next Tuesday morning to take up the issue of compensation for elected officials.
   Additional federal dollars for roads and environmental projects
   Crook County is a significant beneficiary of federal funding allocated for the benefit of counties previously dependent on timber-severance taxes. Nearly $3.4 million is anticipated to be allocated to the benefit of Crook County during each of the next six years.
   This budget is prepared with the knowledge that at present, Crook County's road fund is inadequate to generate the interest income needed to maintain county roads at the standard to which taxpayers are accustomed. In order to ensure the long-term health of the road fund, it is proposed that most of the dollars allocated to the county for road maintenance purposes be placed in the road fund and reserved rather than immediately expended. This will ensure that these dollars as they generate interest in future years will serve the financial interests of taxpayers for generations to come.
   Fairgrounds Funding
   The budget presented for the fairgrounds raises serious long-term concerns. The current fairgrounds budget depends on county and state subsidies for 47 percent of its budget, yet both state and county budgets are under strain and may even be forced to reduce support in future years. The present budget proposes utilizing ending fund balance/contingency in order to cover some shortfall in revenue. This practice cannot be sustained after this fiscal year, and reserved contingency/ending fund is insufficient to absorb the effects of an unanticipated revenue loss in the present budget. Meanwhile, income from events is proposed to remain static, but includes tenuous income from events such as the Crooked River Round-Up, as well as a substantial amount of funding from one-time events such as the FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) rally planned for this summer. At this juncture, it appears that absent a significant change in operations or outside funding support, the present operation of the fairgrounds is unsustainable for the long-term. The County Court, Fair Board and Budget Committee are urged to seriously consider in the year ahead whether this facility can continue to be maintained "status quo," given the bleak revenue picture.
   Jail and Detention Funding
   The Court is aware that citizens have elected not to support two recent levies placed before voters proposing to replace the inadequate Crook County Jail. The Court also is aware that rapid growth is greatly increasing the need to incarcerate ever-larger numbers of individuals. Therefore, this budget proposes to take advantage of the opening of the Jefferson County Jail, planned for fall of 2001, by leasing 12 additional beds in that facility. In addition, the budget proposes to expand funding for juvenile incarceration to levels that correspond with the county's recent historical experience. It should be noted that these funding solutions are stopgap measures and do not alleviate the problems associated with the inadequacy of the present jail or the pending, state-ordered closure of eight beds in the facility in 2004.
   Funding For A Combined Counsel/Planning Department
   The Court has received input that dividing the presently combined position of legal counsel/planner would serve the operational efficiency of that office. Earlier this year, the Court formally went on the record in favor of such an option. The budget committee has recommended back-filling the legal budget and hiring outside legal counsel wherever necessary.
   Capital Purchases
   A substantial amount of funding-in excess of $1 million-is committed herein to real property acquisition and facilities improvement. The county hopes in the coming year to acquire properties adjacent to the Courthouse for the future expansion of county facilities to replace aging, decrepit buildings, relieve overcrowded workspaces and consolidate county services in a single location, In addition, the county has grave concerns that its present computer software and hardware are inadequate to meet the needs of an increasingly electronically dependent world, and is budgeting to upgrade both accordingly. Finally, the budget contains allocations for several vehicles purchases to ensure that reliable transportation is available to all county employees who must travel on county business.
   Conclusion
   Crook County is in good financial health. Last year, the real market value of the county topped $1 billion. Growth has afforded opportunities not previously dreamed of by prior administrations. But clouds loom on the horizon. A potential downturn in the U.S. economy, continued fall-out from a local economy overly dependent on natural resources and potential reductions in state funding all could significantly impact the economic health of the community and subsequently the county. While this budget acknowledges the present fiscally strong position of the county it is also prepared with a level of prudence in mind that will allow the county to maintain the present level of service in future years.
   Complete copies of the budget, with the full budget message, are available at the county treasurer's office for citizen's to review.