Lincoln County Commissioners and their County Counsel Wayne Belmont see next year’s county budget as a “steady as she goes” document, the county having already cut nearly a hundred jobs in the past few years. The commissioners’ budget message gives some insight into how Lincoln County is trying to meet the needs of county residents while coping with large budget cuts caused by the recession.
Message from the Board of Commissioners…
The Board of Commissioners, with the assistance of the County Management Team, presents a balanced budget for fiscal year 2012‐13. The financial downturn that began almost four years ago is still the dominant consideration in shaping the county’s spending blueprint. At the same time, we continue to be guided by the county’s mission statement, which calls for providing essential public services, both legally required and locally desired, in an efficient, effective and respectful manner.
During a two year period, we went through three rounds of budget cuts that brought the county’s workforce to the lowest level in more than 20 years. The first reductions came at the beginning of 2009 to deal with a shortfall in the budget of our Health and Human Services Department. Rounds two and three took place during the 2009 and 2010 budget processes. No department was spared reductions in operating funds and workforce during this period. We have preserved services to the public to the greatest degree possible, but it has been impossible to avoid curtailing or eliminating valuable programs.
An unprecedented drop in revenues to our General Fund required us to take these painful but necessary actions. Almost without exception, we saw leveling off or declines in revenues across the board, including property taxes, federal and state revenues, transient room taxes, state timber sales, and licenses, fees and permits. We achieved a state of near‐equilibrium solely through curtailed spending. Although there are encouraging signs of economic recovery, we have not seen significant revenue gains for your county government. Like most families and businesses, we will continue to look for ways to
achieve greater efficiencies and live within our means.
Federal payments to counties to replace lost timber revenues have expired, and as of this writing, the latest efforts in Congress to extend those payments appear to have hit a dead end. Fortunately, we have already made adjustments to the loss of these dollars, which impact our Road Fund to a much larger degree than our General Fund. Because we have built up a healthy road reserve, we should be able to maintain the good condition of county roads for several more years. That will grow increasingly difficult, though, unless a new revenue source is found at some point.
The Board of Commissioners continues a more rigorous review of hiring that began in late 2008. In addition to layoffs and reductions in workforce through attrition, a number of other steps helped to close the budget gap, including employee salary concessions, use of reserves, and cancellation or delay of vehicle replacements and other capital spending.
During the current budget year, we brought back one position, the Emergency Services Coordinator, and undertook some of the most critical vehicle purchases and capital projects that had been postponed during the worst of the crisis. A handful of equipment and software purchases are included in this budget, but no staff add‐backs are proposed, reflecting the ongoing reality of our financial situation. Local government is all about delivery of services to the public, and that requires people. As a result, employee salaries and benefits are our single biggest cost driver. We are in negotiations with four of our five employee unions (representing road; transit; parole and probation staff; and Health and HumanServices and Courthouse employees). The other contract, with sheriff’s deputies, will be up for negotiation in the 2013‐14 budget year. These are the first contracts we will be negotiating since the recession began. While we cannot discuss specifics at this point, it is the intent of the Board of Commissioners to treat our employees fairly while reflecting our changed economic reality. The cost of health coverage has been rising steadily for both public and private employers for some time. The County has been proactive in trying to contain the growth of this expense, working with partners for the most cost‐effective coverage and maintaining an active safety program and ongoing wellness initiatives. Now we are exploring a move to a high‐deductible health insurance plan with health savings accounts for non‐represented employees and elected officials. Initial projections are that such a plan would produce significant cost savings for us over the next several years.
Amidst all the recent economic challenges, there are many encouraging signs for Lincoln County, and we remain convinced that our long‐term future is bright. The reconstruction of Highway 20 between Toledo and Eddyville has run into numerous delays, but the state remains committed to seeing that project through to completion. When that day comes, we will have a faster and safer link to the valley. Our core industries—timber, tourism and fishing—remain strong, and in fact fisheries income in the county set an all‐time record in 2011, twelve percent above the previous high. The completion of NOAA’s Marine Operations Center for the Pacific is only the most visible sign of the evolution of marine science and ocean observing activities based in the county. The coming years could see ocean science rise to become a segment of our economy rivaling the three current leaders. The last few years have also been a challenging time for county employees, who have found themselves shouldering increased workloads and training to take on new tasks in addition to their existing assignments. They have responded to these demands admirably. As the Board of Commissioners, we want to acknowledge their extraordinary efforts and thank them for their continued dedication to our foremost job—delivering quality services to the public.
Lincoln County Board of Commissioners