POLK COUNTY -- Commissioners last week adopted a status quo county budget totaling $52 million. The amount includes $2.5 million in federal timber payments that officials are still hoping to receive for the general fund.
"The federal government will do the right thing and not leave Oregon counties fiscally devastated," County Administrator Greg Hansen said.
Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe said the county has tried to be more frugal the last year to prepare for potential losses to departments funded by the general fund, including criminal justice, general health, dog control, extension, the fair fund and parks.
The sheriff's office, which is the biggest draw from the general fund, has not filled open positions as a way to begin saving money. Wolfe said it is adding stress to the department as a staff member recently had to cancel a vacation and other personnel is taking on more duties.
Wolfe said county commissioners have been talking with him about what cuts could be made, and he said they are all working to make any reductions as minimal as possible.
While waiting for the decision on the federal timber payments last year, Wolfe said the future looked grim as the department would have needed to lay off six to eight deputies.
Wolfe said cutting three to five deputies could mean an end to the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team and 24-hour patrols seven days a week. A smaller staff may also affect response to low-priority calls and criminal investigations, and may put officer's safety at risk if there is no one else on patrol to call for backup.
"When you don't have enough coverage of law enforcement people to make it safe for the community as well as the officers, bad things happen," Wolfe said.
If the worst does happen and no money is granted to Polk County, Hansen said the county may reduce staff hours and have less open business hours, lay off workers and notify programs of losses. A tax levy for the November ballot would not be an option, Hansen said, as public hearings would have to begin in July and the time frame isn't feasible for this year.
On June 23, the Governor's Task Force on Federal Forest Payments and County Services released a report with possible funding solutions for devastated counties. But Hansen said the amount of money would not be granted anytime soon.
Hansen said the county is in better shape than in 1983, the last time the general fund took a major hit without the timber payments, but services still may be disrupted.
For the overall budget, the amount is $11 million less than last year, but Hansen said the reason for the decrease is because the road bond money has been spent.