While you’ve got enough national crises on your plate at the moment, there’s a new pile of ‘em building up in our little corner of Southwest Oregon that you need to keep up on. You almost never hear the subject mentioned in normal conversation. But we’ve got a county with one foot in a bankruptcy hole and others standing very close to the edge.
The Oregon legislature is wrestling with what to do about this mess but, so far, no bright ideas. There are several pieces of legislation floating around the marble halls in Salem. But no consensus. Yet.
A combination of the loss of millions of dollars tied to federal timberlands and some bad county management has Curry County going to the voters in May for a property tax levy. Asking Curry voters to approve any increase in property taxes for ANY reason is like playing Russian Roulette with six bullets in the chamber. DOA.
All 18 counties who’ve been drawing the federal O&C lands millions for decades are hurting. While several of our congressional hired hands are trying to get yet another extension through the “Congress of the Walking Dead,” don’t hold your breath. In all likelihood, the State of Oregon will have to be the hero that saves the day. If it can.
Several counties swilling at the federal timber trough all these years have managed to put some bucks away – figuring the whole O&C business would end someday. A couple of reduced dollar amount extensions have kept the budgetary wolves at bay for several years. But those days are over. Unless you can picture John Boehner and his posse riding to the rescue with more federal bucks. Yeah.
Curry is in the worst shape primarily because of bad – or maybe gutless – elected mismanagement for many years. Curry collects taxes at about the lowest assessed values in the state. That often happens in a low population county where everybody knows everybody else. A few years ago, Curry had its back to the wall because the Coos-Curry Electric Board refused to regularly raise rates to pass along increases from power suppliers like Bonneville.
It was piling up debt while its transmission system was being held together with duct tape. The Board simply tried to absorb increasing costs rather than raise rates on rate payers. The neighbors. Finally, the feds stepped in and said – to the effect – “Start paying back your loans or you won’t be getting any more.” Rates went up. Ratepayers bitched. But the rates went up. And some old board members (neighbors) were defeated.
That same scenario has been playing out with several Curry County commissions refusing to increase property assessments to keep up with costs of county operation over the years. Just bein’ neighborly. Faced with a brick wall straight ahead last year, Curry voters said “NO” and things started going to Hell.
Same in Josephine County where the crime rate is up 50% in Grants Pass and 45% in the county this year. Prosecutions are down 42%. At least two armed civilian groups have been created to keep the peace. There aren’t enough deputies to man the jail. So, unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer, you plead and go home. Or go back to breaking-and-entering. (more…)