Citizens of Coos you’ve patiently stuck with over the last 4 months as I’ve tried to inform you of what’s going wrong in County Government. In this week’s issue we’ll look at what’s impeding Coos County from moving forward economically.
In my opinion Coos County’s economic development has been stagnant for at least the past 40 years and is due to its lack of a definable identity. Does it want to be an industrial import/export seaport? Does it want to be a tourist destination? Does it want to be a combination of both? Who knows, but whatever it is, it seems that the former is what is being presented to the rest of the State and ultimately Country.
The problem with this approach is that it conflicts with the second option because its presentation is mutually excludable to the other. We’ve seen through over those 40 years many attempts to lure heavy industry to the area from coal, nickel, rare earth mineral processing and exporting to an electrical power generating plant and now LNG importing/exporting (first proposed as an import terminal in October 2005, and later redefined as an export terminal in May 2010). None of these attempts have panned out, and the County has essentially lost 40 years of potential development with its corresponding job growth associated with it.
Let’s be honest if the Portland Metro area or the Willamette Valley wanted any of those large companies that we’ve courted over the years they’d be located there. If they don’t want them then it’s usually for environmentally related reasons that they’re rejected. As we’ve seeing recently, our LNG proposal is coming under attack for those same reasons. The urban centers of the state don’t want that business anywhere within Oregon.
As a tourist destination, we’ve had better luck. Bandon Dunes and its subsidiaries according to 2014 assessor data account for over $610,000 in taxes for Coos County. The County’s development of Riley Ranch has been successful and is turning a profit. The new resort being built as you read this at the old Coos Head Pulp Mill site in Barview should be an asset once completed and open for business.
However that’s not much to show for over 40 years if you exclude the two tribal developments. I think this is a result of the Jekyll and Hyde personally that we have as a County, and its projection is not lost on the rest of the country. Don’t expect others to come running to invest in our area without assurances that their vision for the area matches our own, and has long term stability. In order to proceed we must change our approach, coming together and decide the type of area we want to live in, and market that vision to the rest of the country.
How do we accomplish this? The realistic approach is to identify what we have here in Coos County that gives us a comparative advantage over the rest of the areas up and down the Coast. It’s our climate, beaches, parks, history, unique mix of industries, farming, ranching, fishing, ship building, etc. that honors that history and defines who we are. Our remoteness and isolation which is a determent for large industrial development is an asset in an overstimulated world. The mix would insulated our economy from the vagaries of the business cycle, also provide a wide range of industries and the associated jobs that are part of each. This would also give our youth a breadth of professions to choose from.
A large industrial mindset will preclude any development along those lines, and lead to a continued stagnation. We need to think smaller not bigger, 50 diverse companies providing on average 10 jobs each creates 500 jobs, and makes us less vulnerable to economic swings. If 5 businesses fail we still have 450 jobs, one company of 500 employees who fails leaves us with 500 unemployed people. An added benefit to this approach is that the smaller communities in the area could share in locating those smaller firms into their areas.
It’s also necessary for the County to enter the 21st century and provide ultra-high-speed internet access to the entire County and every business and residence contained within. We should be considering speeds in the 10 gigabit range as a starter. It’s my understanding that the fiber optic backbone (main trunk lines) already exist along highways 42 and 101, it’s just a matter of rolling out fiber up the market roads and interconnecting roads and lanes. This could be an economic stimulus to not only existing businesses, but also a way of attracting both new business, and encouraging entrepreneurial startups swelling up from within.
I once worked with one such individual in the days of floppy disks, and was told that he could live anywhere in the country as long as he had access to a commercial airport. His software could be shipped anywhere overnight and mass reproduced the next day and distributed immediately. Today with the internet and high speed broadband we don’t even need that. We’re just a keystroke or a mouse click away from teleconferencing, file sharing, or information exchange to anywhere in the world.
However like in your life, you need certain assurances in order to make proper decisions. Businesses are no different, someone looking for a quite rural idyllic lifestyle, would be attracted to this area. However, the appearance or threat thereof a large scale industrial site of one sort or another that threatens that way of life, will send those businesses running, and put the area on a blacklist for future consideration.
To summarize take advantage of your strengths, fly under the radar of the Willamette Valley and Portland Metro area, after all they can’t compete with what we offer and aren’t interested in smaller companies. Take advantage of Southwestern Oregon Community College and the job training and skill programs they provide as a down payment on that investment. Then go out and execute, making course corrections as needed, in a generation you should see the results of your labors.
Citizens of Coos County, the final public hearings of the Budget Committee have occurred. Next week I’ll share with you my observations of the approved budget.
However this week there are a couple of items that were shared by the Coos County Board of Commissioners (BOC) with the budget committee that might be of interest and/or concern to you.
The first is that the BOC is getting serious about the consolidation of the County Parks system. All of the parks other than Lakeside, Riley Ranch, Bastendorf, and Laverne are on the chopping block. These parks are what the BOC has identified as underperforming. They’re not generating enough money for the County to cover maintenance fees. Those not precluded by deed restrictions are for sale and they hope to have buyers before the next budget hearings in 2019. Powers Park has already had preliminary discussions and a work session is scheduled shortly.
As stated previously in a Sentinel Opinion piece, the budget committee toured the County parks 2 summers ago, this is the result of that tour. I’m not aware of any public outreach on the issue, other than maybe the Parks Committee. If you have a special interest in keeping these outlier parks as part of the County system, intact in part or whole, then now is the time to get involved. Note: Parks has transferred approximately $750,000 to the General Fund over the last 3 years.
The second issue is the disposal of the North Bend Annex. As again stated in a previous Sentinel Opinion piece the County budget committee also toured this facility about 2 years ago. The theme of that piece was that the BOC wanted to dump the property for little or nothing.
The BOC now that Coos Health and Wellness has relocated to their new facility in Empire has emptied the building of most County offices. The only remaining tenant is Oregon State Courts. The BOC stated they have two potential buyers for the building, however that’s not the issue. Unlike two years ago, the BOC wants the sale to generate enough funds to cover in whole or part a massive reshuffling of County offices. This will probably necessitate the expenditure of over a million dollars in moving and remodeling costs.
The reshuffle goes like this. First the Sheriff’s Department will relocate into a remodeled space in the current jail. The architectural plans I saw two years ago revealed a price tag for the jail remodel of about $1 million. Secondly, the Planning Department will then be moved into the Courthouse basement space which the Sheriff now occupies. Thirdly, the BOC, County Counsel and Human Resources (HR) would move to the Owen Building now occupied by the Planning Department. Finally The State Courts now in the North Bend Annex would relocate to the area in the Courthouse now occupied by the BOC, County Counsel and HR.
I’m assuming that the costs of all these moves will be borne by the County, as well as the associated remodeling costs required to reconfigure each space for its new occupants. State Courts could be different depending on how their current contract with the BOC is drawn, or what inducements the BOC will have to agree to in order to facilitate such a move.
As to the status of the Watermaster and Veterans Services, that wasn’t mentioned. However the BOC, County Counsel and HR in the approved 2018-2019 budget is comprised of 9 Full Time Equivalents (FTE), while Planning, Veterans Services, and the Watermaster contain 7.8 FTE’s.
Therefore it’s likely they will have to be relocated to accommodate the need for space for the additional personnel.
In the case of Veterans Services this could be the time to reconfigure their outreach into a format that better suits the needs of the veterans themselves. It’s my understanding from conversations with the veterans, they would like to be out of the Oregon Coast Community Action building located in Empire, and have the County Veterans Services coexist with the non-profit volunteer group Southwestern Oregon Veterans Outreach (SOVO), now located in the Pony Village Mall. The synergy would be of benefit to the veterans, as both services could cover for each other. Veterans have told me they would prefer a Coos Bay / North Bend location, with outreach to the surrounding cities.
As to the reshuffling itself, the Sheriff moving to the Jail makes sense, since in an emergency scenario such as an earthquake, his entire command and control structure could be wiped out, by the collapse of the structurally inadequate courthouse. This would cause unnecessary delays to any recovery effort.
As to the relocation of the BOC out of the Courthouse into the Owens building, this seems odd. It would be cheaper to move them to the Sheriff’s old offices in the basement and leave Planning, Veterans Services and the Watermaster where they are. The reasoning given for moving Planning instead is that it would consolidate all County permitting at a central location, though Planning is more closely tied to Building Codes and DEQ, who are both located in Coos Bay.
More than likely the BOC just wants newer, larger and more assessable office space for themselves. They would be closer to the large conference room in the Owens Building and wouldn’t have to walk in foul weather to attend meetings there. There is also dedicated parking on the north side of the building, serviced by a corresponding exterior door leading into the building. This would allow them private access to and from the facility without being exposed to public contact.
For whatever reason, this is what the BOC has as a priority, and is proposing to implement. Although the County is currently in a fiscal crisis, money still appears to be available even though transparency is not. As repeated ad nauseam, selling assets (in this case Parks and the North Bend Annex) to finance questionable 7 figure projects when County departments are asked to cut their budgets, defies logic. As always, you are the final arbiter
Citizens of Coos County, as promised last week, we’ll cover my observations of the final (approved) budget for 2018-2019. The departments presenting that week were Planning, Parks, and Solid Waste.
As predicated in the March 28, 2018 Sentinel OpEd, the County Board of Commissioners (BOC), revealed the final day revenue that they had been holding back. This included a $758,000 BLM check for Secure Rural Schools (SRS). Actually this amount was later amended to include an additional $149,000, but was later rescinded due to a calculation error on the part of a third party. This figure was included in the budget approved by the Budget Committee, but will have to be made up by the BOC before they Adopt the final budget. Likely from either the Forestry 5 year rolling average or the Solid Waste roof fund.
In addition $455,800 was transferred from Parks to the General Fund along with $200,000 from Solid Waste. This left $281, 454 to balance. This was accomplished by cutting $38,000 more out of individual line items in the Solid Waste budget, with the final $244,454 coming from the Solid Waste roof fund. This left a surplus of $1,000 that was allocated as $600 to the BOC for an employee party and $400 for new ten-key calculators for the Finance Department.
The budget approved was in the amount of $113 million, and represents $1.0799 per thousand valuation. The BOC stated next year would be difficult due to an expected PERS increase, and an increase in Cost Allocation. The BOC plans to address this with the hope that Jordan Cove will come on line soon, and from an increase in County forest timber receipts, due to the overharvesting plan taking effect.
The Compensation committee next met. This committee consists of the 3 citizens appointed to the budget committee. In the interest of full disclosure I did testify before the compensation committee against approval of raises for the BOC. Their decision was to deny any raises for the BOC by a 2 to 1 vote. This was an especially difficult decision for the two member who voted no, and I commend them for the fortitude it took to do so. They both had the publics’ best interest.
One item that occurred during the Sheriff’s presentation and was ignored by the BOC has become a focus in the news recently. That is a public safety levy. The BOC and Sheriff are to meet later this month in work session to discuss this idea.
Let me take a minute to clear up a misconception that I’ve been hearing lately. That is what goes on at the BOC regular biweekly meetings. This meeting is not where issues or policy are decided, but where the formal vote occurs. The real decisions are made in the work sessions held to discuss the items or policy, and occur prior to regular BOC meetings.
That said, the Sheriff tried to make two proposals during his budget presentation regarding a public safety levy in support of his department. The first was in the amount of $2.6 million or $.48 per thousand, the second was for $5.3 million or $.97 per thousand. This will probably be the starting point for forthcoming discussions. Work sessions are open to the public, but meeting agendas are not always available before the meeting.
What does all this mean? This is referred to as a Local Option Levy and is temporary in nature. Ongoing operations are of 1 to 5 years. Capital Projects are the lesser of 10 years or the useful life of the Capital project. A Local Option Levy also requires the approval of the voters by election.
How could this affect you? Ongoing operations are like drugs, once you approve one, you’re hooked and the only way to continue the service is by approving by vote another levy. This is what’s going on in Lane County with their jail. Capital projects are a one time and done. This method could be used to finance the new County wide communications system and dispatch software upgrades.
Are there other considerations? The first is that the voters in the Coos Bay school district just barely passed a bond that will raise taxes for approximately 33% of the County citizens by $1.60 per thousand. On a $200,000 property the Sheriff’s levy would be an additional $100-200 per year on top of the $320 per year they’ll begin paying in November. Will those citizens be prepared to shoulder the additional cost? Especially those on fixed incomes?
Rental housing is already tight and rents are increasing. Landlords will have to pass the cost on, how will this affect renters already on the edge. Could this lead to more people becoming homeless?
What about the people who’re already homeless trying to accumulate enough money to transition into housing. Will this make reaching that goal an even more daunting task?
One additional thought for your consideration. The Sheriff as of 2017-2018 was 48% of the General Fund Budget, and 59% excluding the miscellaneous account which contains dedicated funds. So we to need to ask, how will this money be allocated? Will it supplement the current Sheriff’s budget? This action would not relieve the General Fund of any future demands on it. Would it supplant the current Sheriff’s budget? This would free up the levy amount from the General Fund, relieving future demands. However, would the General Fund now freed up by millions of dollars, now become subject to new spending by the BOC? Finally it could be a hybrid of the two, in which case both scenarios would apply. Also in play is the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) the BOC has with Bandon Dunes, and how it would be interpreted within the context of the Sheriff’s funding levels not falling below the 2016-2017 budget levels.
These are just a few of the complexities facing the BOC and the Sheriff. However, if the BOC decides to proceed they will have to submit to a vote. This time the law is on your side, and you will have the final say.