Leaders on Oregon's South Coast are buying some time to deal with a dire fiscal situation. But as
April Baer reports, Curry County's outlook is still extremely shaky.
Curry County Commissioners decided Wednesday to vote May 9th on whether to place a sales tax on the ballot.
Late last week, they also gave themselves a temporary reprieve from a $1.8 million shortfall. Part of the plan involves spending down $450,000 of what's called working capital. That's the balance the county keeps on the books to pay for regular expenditures - a bit like the balance in your checking account.
Commissioner George Rhodes says the risks are obvious, but he believes the commission had to do something.
"Simply to buy some time. To give us an opportunity to simply go out and inform citizens about issues."
If the county can put off insolvency even six months or so, Rhodes says, a sales tax could make a big difference.
He's also hoping the federal government might act to restore some of the so-called county payments that sustained Curry County for so many years, or approve a new forest management policy that would allow timber cutting on federal lands within the county.
Rhodes says everyone knows the gamble involves a lot of risks.
"If you have any kind of major catastrophic event -- and at this point I'd say it wouldn't even have to be major -- you don't have the resources to take care of that."
A flood, a large fire, even a medical emergency at the county jail could plunge the county over the edge.
State officials are watching the situation closely. And another vote last week may have an even bigger ripple effect on the county's fate.
Last Friday, the commissioners, as they put it, "self-declared a financial emergency." That runs contrary to a blueprint the Oregon Legislature offered in its February session.
In addition to guiding a path to re-organization, the state asked the county to kick in $75,000 to help bankroll a fiscal control board that would oversee the process. But county commissioners say they don't have that money.
Greg Wolf is Governor Kitzhaber's liaison to the counties, like Curry, that are trying to stave off insolvency. Wolf says there are limited things the Governor can do, in the absence of a formal fiscal emergency declaration.
"In this case, the kind of technical assistance we provide would not be an overall kind of recommendation to the county of how to proceed. It would be looking at state services and county services and ensure that services continue in one form or another. I think the difference is the level of intensity and effort," Wolf says.
In other words, the county might have to get along without the tools offered in the legislative blueprint. The power to issue special bonds, renegotiate union contracts or call emergency elections might be out of reach if the county won't budge on funding the fiscal control board.