Setting the Record Straight
Today, I have a “correct the record” post to make and then some good news.
First, unfortunately Ms Smith has posted a misleading bit about taxes. Let me be clear-we are not raising your taxes. We are actually doing what she has said we should do-letting the voters decide. A large number of Non Governmental groups and other citizens that serve abused and neglected children and barely survive on donations asked us to place an initiative on the ballot for the voters to decide. It would cost .15 cents per thousand of assessed value per year to help fund these desperately need services. That’s about $45.00 for a 300k assessed value. We are requiring a cost recovery model for administering the funds, accounting, auditing etc as we are doing for many other departments- totally consistent with county policy. It is also true Metro has placed a transportation measure on the ballot for all modes of transportation, not just light rail as is suggested. We had nothing to do with that being placed on the ballot but it is consistent with Ms. Smith’s past statements of “let the voters decide” . As elected officials we will , of course, comply with your decision.
On a better note, today Clackamas County received two awards from the National Association of Counties. The first was for the “Library of things” . You can go to the library and borrow many things rather than having to buy one yourself. Need a karaoke machine for a party- go to the library! Need a pasta maker= go to the library! Over 500 items available to to to check out . For more info go to Linnc.org
Water and Environmental services received an award for the ped/bike bridge across the Clackamas River. It is the only seismically rated bridge for a 9.2 earthquake over the river and can hold emergency vehicles, a necessity if other routes are destroyed. It also carries W.E.S.’ pipes, our broadband cable and is used for walking and biking .
Misleading info is being put out on YouTube and social media. So I will try to set the record straight.
Recently the sheriff issued an op ed making a variety of statements regarding the condition of the county’s finances.
Using loaded terms such as “crisis” , “astonishing” and suggesting we are going to cut jobs to build a much needed courthouse.
I am writing as your representative to correct the record and put some context around the issues we face.
Let me start by stating that the county has a “triple -AAA- credit rating”- rather unlikely if we were mismanaging our finances and/or were in a crisis.
Our budget is balanced this year, as the law requires. Looking forward, we are concerned that revenues are rising a a slower rate than the demand for services so we are taking a proactive stance to ” right size” the budget NOW instead of waiting for it to BE a crisis. I call it a belt tightening. We have a number of vacant positions and have imposed a hiring freeze except for critical positions. We are working with our unions in a cooperative venture to accomplish this. The general manager has even eliminated 3 assistant County administrator postions in the executive offices to help in the belt tightening. The numbers the sheriff floated are months old and the gap we are going to eliminate is much lower. Staff are working on that analysis as we speak. Meanwhile, in an effort to be proactive we have directed all depts to look for areas they could cut ,IF NEEDED,in advance, to prepare fora variety of possibilities. County managers and staff have stepped up and done that so all alternatives and contingencies are thought through proactiviely.
I have said that we need new accounting software to bring Clackamas County into the 21st century and help our finance team . Forecasting is an inexact process but to be effective they need the best tools we can get. That is a cost of about 2 million dollars . The board agreed and that is an additi that has been addressed. It is also a cost that can be spread over a number of years so as not to devastate a budget- again good planning.
As for the sheriffs budget, of our discretionary funds- about 134 million- he gets almost 50% of that money- about $70 million, plus $ from 3 city contracts and an enhanced law enforcement district. That leaves the balance for all a other general fund services, too numerous to list here. While we all agree that we would like more deputies on the street, his executive team and civilian staff are pretty well filled and I have it on good authority that the problem is the allocation of the resources we give him and not necessarily the amount. Of course the ultimate question then becomes ” what do you want me to cut to give you more when your current allocation of resources is questionable.?” Shall we cut mental health? homelessness? screening staff for hiring people? accountants? the volunteer coordinator that works with the hundreds of citizen volunteers that make the tax payers dollar go further?etc
Finally lets talk about the court house project and other capital needs. The court house was built about 1936 when we had about 45k people. Today we are approaching 420 k . We have squeezed 11 courts in a building built for 1 plus county staff. Occasionally it has had to be evacuated because of poor air quality, is only 3 feet from falling into the river and cannot be “remodeled ” into a better court. Previous administrations in 1998 planned for this eventuality when planning and building the Redsoils Campus. The land was purchased and infrastructure installed for the eventnual courthouse to be located there. That forethought was instrumental in our receivng 96 million dollars from the state!Even former conservative commissioners Smith and Ludlow supported building it in that location. It is also unsafe for people using the courts as accused and victims often find themselves face to face in the corridors awaiting trial- imagine how intimidating that is to crime victims and victims of spousal abuse. But, the good news, as I said, is the state will give us 96 million dollars towards its replacement. That’s 96 million dollars of your state taxes coming back to Clackamas County for a project we must do, no matter what. It would be financially irresponsible to turn that down. So we have directed our project coordinator to come up with financing scenarios for the balance. We have 5 to choose from and will be making that decision soon. Not all require financing from the public via bonding. Some are public /private partnerships, through bonding, w/ voter approval the cheapest in the long run. Do we have other pressing capital needs? Yes- a new jail is one, roads and bridges,libraries, parks, the sewer treatment plant( being paid for w/ rate payer dollars btw) but none have 96 million dollars offered by the state. So when an opportunity to save money occurs for a much needed project , you shift your priorities and take advantage of it. It will probably be 2 years out before we actually start construction, in the meantime we will adjust our budget, tighten the belt, balance our budget as we always do, and move forward. There is no crisis!! No missing money!! Oh, btw, we increased the sheriffs budget by 5.5 million last year, keeping a commitment we made to him 2 years ago. How soon he forgets!
On a personal note, as one who served in the USMC and in a law enforcement career, I am a true friend of law enforcement. I have ridden with every agency in Clackamas County since I became a commissioner to see what our law enforcement professionals deal with. No other commissioner has done that. So I am disappointed that issues such as this, with misinformation or inaccurate context, are publicized. I believe that you have a right to expect that the sheriff and the Board should sit down and solve problems , not make them worse by upsetting people unnecessarily. -Ken