Douglas County Courthouse

The Douglas County Budget Committee on Friday approved the Fiscal Year 2019-20 county government budget, which calls for $164 million in expenditures.

The budget isn’t final yet and still has to receive formal approval from the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. Since three of the Budget Committee members are county commissioners, though, the final budget usually doesn’t change much between the Budget Committee’s decision and the budget’s July 1 start date.

The $164 million figure is up $19 million over the previous year’s budget. The bulk of that increase, more than $13 million, is due to capital expenditures on equipment and construction projects, most notably in parks, solid waste and public works budgets. Those are generally, partially or entirely funded through state and federal grants and pass-through dollars, so there’s additional expense, but also additional revenue, to match.

Overall personnel costs are also up even though the budget included cuts of 14.75 positions. Wages and benefits for county’s 524.62 remaining employees will rise by $1.2 million to $54.2 million next year, largely due to increases in public employee retirement system, or PERS, benefits.

This budget will dip into the general fund reserves to the tune of $9.2 million, dropping the reserves to $41.8 million. General funds are dollars without strings attached that help pay for the district attorney, human resources and an array of other departmental budgets. Historically, these funds have primarily come from federal timber harvests and, more recently, from safety net payments. The amount of money going into the fund from the federal government has declined, and so far safety net payments have not been approved for Fiscal Year 2019-20.

“The current rate of use of general fund reserves is not sustainable,” Chief Financial Officer Jessica Hansen told the committee Thursday. “In the near future, if federal funding issues are not resolved, the county will need to find an alternative way to fund services and/or reduce or eliminate many services.”

The following are some highlights from departmental budgets the committee approved Friday after two days of budget hearings:

SHERIFF: The committee decided Thursday that public safety will cut nine positions, five from the Douglas County sheriff’s enforcement budget and four from corrections. Many, but not all, of the positions are currently vacant. The public safety budget will be $24.2 million next year, and facing both cuts and the threat of future cuts ahead as the county’s general fund dwindles, Sheriff John Hanlin said he would throw his support behind passage of a public safety levy.

Hanlin had originally been asked to cut 10 positions, and pleaded with the committee Thursday to add some back. In the end, a detective analyst was the lone position restored prior to the budget’s passage. More in-depth coverage of the sheriff’s budget discussions appeared in Friday’s News-Review and is posted online.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Prior to approval of his budget Friday, Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg thanked the commissioners for what he said was their unwavering support for preserving public safety.

“Just as the sheriff continues to offer 24/7 patrol, and just as he continues to operate our jail at capacity, so too are my dedicated prosecutors able to seek justice for the people of Douglas County,” he said.

Wesenberg said his budget was almost the same as the previous year’s. It drops a victim assistance coordinator position whose grant funding ended, and adds a half-time legal assistant position. He said the legal assistant position was needed because of an unfunded mandate from the state legislature that grand jury proceedings be recorded and those recordings be made available to defendants.

JUVENILE DEPARTMENT: The $6.3 million Juvenile Department budget will take $1.2 million from the general fund next year, $441,000 more than in 2018-19. The department lost revenue when it dropped some contracts with the state to provide detention services, but still has a contract with DHS to house foster youth in multiple shelter facilities. Commissioner Tim Freeman, a member of the budget committee, said at one time the county anticipated making the juvenile department self-sufficient. Legislative changes, however, have made that unlikely. There are still empty beds and the county will look for ways to fill them, Freeman said.

There are monies carried over from the previous budget for reopening the shuttered Pitchford Ranch, but plans to renovate it to house younger foster kids won’t go ahead, Juvenile Department Director Aric Fromdahl said. He said it would do the youth a service, but the current atmosphere in the state and the legislature aren’t favorable.

“I think that the politics and optics of doing that, we’ve decided would probably not be good at this time,” he said. He said others in the community are interested in pursuing what the county started. It might be reopened, but not by the county, he said.

SOLID WASTE: The Solid Waste Department is self-supporting through fees. Its 2019-20 budgeted expenditures increased by $1.9 million to $7.5 million. That’s partly due to the addition of two transfer station site attendants, bringing the number of attendants to 18 and the total number of solid waste employees to 33.25.

An even bigger factor is $1.5 million in planned capital expenditures, compared with $202,000 the previous year. In addition to pickup trucks, a leachate tanker and other equipment purchases the capital expenditures include $950,000 to be spent on storm water systems at the county’s transfer stations that will meet Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

PARKS: The Parks Department is also self-sufficient, and its $4.8 million budget calls for no money from the general fund in 2019-20. The budget is up about $2 million from the previous year and includes $2 million in capital expenses, mostly for parks improvement projects. Funds are included for rehabilitation of the Umpqua Dunes RV Park, previously known as Discovery Point. Also included is an expansion at the Half Moon Bay campground, a restroom restoration at River Forks Park and a restroom replacement at Ben Irving Reservoir in Tenmile. Most of the expense for the improvements comes from state grants.

PUBLIC WORKS: The $41 million Public Works budget is up $11.6 million from 2018. Nearly all of that increase is due to capital expenditures. New funding has also opened up for bridge repairs and replacements due to a change in federal law. Bridges budgeted for improvement include the Berry Creek, Soup Creek, Dancer Creek and Windy Creek bridges. The ongoing improvements to Old Highway 99 North in Winchester are budgeted for $8 million. Carnes Road improvements, slide repairs and pavement management also are budgeted, along with road maintenance equipment.

COMMISSIONERS: The county commissioners' office staff will drop from three commissioners and three assistants to three commissioners and two assistants.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

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