COOS COUNTY—The Coos County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the county’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget at its meeting Tuesday as yet another year of funding problems face the county.
The more than $104.3 million budget includes $23 million for the general fund.
Coos County's general fund increased nine percent – up $1.9 million –from last year.
“The good news is we balanced the budget, the bad news is once again we had to dip into reserves to do that,” Coos County Commissioner John Sweet said, “We can’t sustain that.”
The lack of sustainability stems from the way the county compensated for $1.1 million in budget shortfalls. The money came from 14 years of budget carryover in the county forestry fund. That’s money that the county won’t be able to rely on next fiscal year.
Some of the deficit was fueled by the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act.
This year the county received $1.1 million from the Bureau of Land Management in timber-receipt based payments for O&C lands, in lieu of the Secure Rural Schools Act payment. That amount was $650,000 less than what the county got the year prior.
Public safety takes up the lion’s share of the general fund budget.
The Sheriff’s Office, which is comprised of the jail, marine patrol, dune patrol and 911 calls, takes up $11.3 million of the general fund.
The county has seen a boon due to the Bandon Dunes lodging assessment which is estimated to provide $585,000 for public safety this upcoming year.
That money has allowed the Sheriff’s Office to increase salaries from $36,000 to $42,000 a year.
Sweet said the wage increases were an important step toward reopening another portion of the jail.
“We were able to balance the budget. I thought some of the notable things we had and did were to find money with which to increase the compensation for our deputies,” he said.
Another added source of income is marijuana tax money. That’s estimated to garner around $50,000 for the year. While the money hasn’t been allocated yet, there have been work sessions suggesting part of it be used to fund the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Unit.
The approved budget is a culmination of four months of work by the newly-elected county treasurer Megan Simms.
Budget meetings began in April, with commissioners consulting all the county departments.
Main said working with each of the various organizations over the course of the budgeting process was trying.
“It’s tough on those departments trying to balance their budgets and stay within the overall budget we have,” Main said.
He added that the county forest is the area’s saving grace.
“The only thing that’s really saved us and made a difference for Coos County versus let’s say Curry or Josephine or Klamath, etc. is we have the county forest,” Main said, “That is our one saving thing that’s made us different than those other counties.”
Timber receipts on county forestland bring in almost as much as property taxes, with $4.4 million coming from the former and $5 million from the latter.
Both commissioners commented on how lean the county is run, with much less staff than years prior.
Wages for county employees is up less than one percent from last fiscal year.
The nominal increase was attributed to combining the treasurer and finance director positions, retirements of employees at the upper end of their salary range with replacements starting at a lower salary and the SCINT Director’s salary being paid for by Coos Bay.
The Board of commissioners is also the governing board for the Coos County library, 4-H extension and Coos County Area transit (CCAT). The commissioners approved each of those budgets as well.
Sweet said in the future Coos County residents will have to make a decision on whether or not they want to pay more taxes or receive less services.
“We’re going to be faced with a choice. We either have to increase our tax revenues or we have to reduce services.” Sweet said, “We don’t have a lot of other options.”