REEDSPORT— Douglas County Commissioners took a message that combined a history of revenue cuts with striving to provide proper customer service.
The decline of federal timber receipts to counties has meant a drop in what services county leaders can provide -- and not just in law enforcement.
Meeting at Reedsport City Hall, Commissioners Gary Leif, Tim Freeman and Chris Boice outlined the county's history and struggles various department staffs have.
In a separate, Jan. 17, regular commissioners meeting Leif outlined the challenges, saying that county department heads "are working diligently to allocate our scarce resources." In addition, the citizen budget committee will meet soon to deliberate on the budget for 2018-2019. At the Jan. 17 commissioners' Roseburg meeting, Chair Leif said 2018 "marks the first full year" the county doesn't receive funding from the Secure Rural Oregon Schools Act — essentially timber receipt money.
Leif showed charts to audience members — just as commissioners had at the Reedsport meeting. He explained that in 2018-19 "with just over $60 million" the county will need approximately $23 million from its reserves per year. Commissioner Leif praised his fellow commissioners -- Freeman for working with Congress to get timber receipts and Boice to cooperate with county department heads on savings.
"I'm not sharing the information today to sound an alarm," Leif emphasized. Instead he wanted citizens to "fully understand the primary focus of our work." Plus he wanted citizens to present their budget ideas, adding that "we must focus on our financial realities that we face....and on year three we will be out of money."
The county also receives some state and federal dollars but he said these come "with strings attached." Funding comes from state lottery, marijuana, alcohol and gas tax money.
Property taxes are unrestricted, but historically have been allocated for the sheriff's office.
U.S. Forest Service dollars go partly to roads and partly to the sheriff's office.
Speaking to the group of about 19 Reedsport-area residents at the recent budget town hall, Commissioner Freeman said "we like each other. We (the commissioners) get along."
Freeman outlined a strategy commissioners tried after fewer people attended the Roseburg sessions. Instead of encouraging Douglas County residents to travel to Roseburg, a few years ago commissioners decided to try something a bit different.
They'd head out on the road, budget charts in hand — just as they did in Reedsport.
This way, whether it was in Reedsport or Drain, residents could meet and ask questions of their commissioners and get more familiar about budget needs and yes — challenges.
"It's been very helpful the last couple of years," said Freeman.
Commissioner Freeman showed audience members a map of the county and which areas pay no property taxes, including the state-owned Elliott State Forest just as one example. Other territories include the so-called O & C or Oregon and California lands, which the Bureau of Land Management personnel manages. Freeman said these are only in 18 Oregon counties and unlike the term O & C they don't extend to California. BLM also pays no property tax. These are just a few examples of larger land tracts in the county. National Forest Service owns property too but pays no taxes.
"And there was a species listing and it was the Northern Spotted Owl," Freeman said.
The species listing in the early 1990s came with conflicts throughout Oregon and the rest of the Northwest between logging companies, environmentalists, small towns that had depended on logging for years and others, with Freeman adding "as you can see, it all but shut off logging."
He noted that there are no funding restrictions with O & C funds. Douglas County receives 25 percent of this money.
Boice referred to early budgetary challenges, saying some might then ask "if this happened way back here, whey didn't they do anything about it?"
He said between 2007 and 2012 — when a different set of commissioners were on board — those leaders laid off government employees. In 2005, about 1,200 employees worked for the county. Former commissioners cut that down to 896 in 2007. In 2012, they started spending down their reserves and now the county operates with 527 employees.
He noted that "the federal government for the first time ever did not renew the safety net (for timber receipts)" in 2015.
Boice said he believed he and Freeman and Leif would have made the same decisions as the previous commissioners did.
After the Northern Spotted Owl's listing in 1991, less money flowed in from timber receipts. Boice said at first county department personnel "spent less money than what (they'd) budgeted."
Then in 2012, Congress reauthorized the safety net for timber receipts. The county had spent down its own reserves.
"We knew that we had a problem," Commissioner Boice said.