Opinion Piece By Steve Scheer
Citizens of Coos County, I have been asked what I intend to do about the current state of the County, should I be elected to office.
Well, the answer to that question is nothing! I’ll guess that’s probably the last thing you expected to hear, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it.
Folks, I’m not a politician nor the Pied Piper. As a single individual I can propose, but nothing will happen without your involvement. I’m merely a common citizen like yourself who through my own involvement in County Government (Budget Committee, Planning Commission, and Noxious Weed Board) have come to believe that the concerns of we the Citizens of Coos County are not being heard by the current Board of Commissioners (BOC). I’ve placed myself in a position through this campaign and these opines to educate you to what is going on in your County Government. Some of you out there I’m sure are aware of at least some of what is going on, but like myself before I got involved most of you are probably sorely undereducated on this topic. The purpose is to try and make you aware so that when you cast you ballot on May 15, 2018, you have the best information at hand in order to make the decision that represents your present and future welfare.
If you want change then it boils down to you! You need to educate yourself, then support the candidate that your informed decision dictates, but most importantly no matter the result you must exercise your 1st amendment rights afterwards. The surest way to get the attention of your elected officials is to make your voice heard over and over and over again. This requires you to attend meetings, educate yourself on the issues and clamor that you be heard and taken seriously. There is one caveat, you have the right to be assertive and persistent, but always be respectful. Remember that there is always more than one side to an issue and we won’t always prevail. The goal is to move the narrative and direction of how you want your County Government to operate, it doesn’t have to always be via a straight line.
It’s fundamentally necessary that any government official have only one master and that is the citizens they represent. I believe in that concept so strongly I’ve neither asked nor will accept, campaign money from you or anyone else. However I’m a realist and know that my opponent will spend vastly more money than I. That’s why the outcome comes down to you.
Instead I’ve decided to focus on the issues rather than fluff, substance rather than conjecture, and the cold hard truth rather than a ‘pie in the sky’ promise that makes you feel that everything will be ok if you’ll just support me. I can’t do that it’s not in my DNA, the truth as most of you know from just living life can be cold and hard, but we can face it together. Whatever the outcome if we come together to support a common goal then we’ll become stronger, and at least change the direction and set in motion a process that those who follow us can build upon.
This election is not only about fixing the present, but securing the future for those generations not yet able to vote. Seldom in life do any of us have a chance to make a difference in the community that we live. Most of the time that is left to some wealthy individual who donates money for the construction of some edifice that usually ends up bearing the family name. However, you the ordinary forgotten citizens of Coos County, stand at this critical crossroads in time. Your present and future actions give you the opportunity to leave a more important and lasting mark as any memorial could. What you have a chance to do will last for generations, and will be spoken of over and over by those whose gift you had the foresight to create. It will be something that will never fade, rust or deteriorate with time but perpetually shine as a tribute to your vison, deeds and sacrifice.
The road that we’ll have to travel, will be rough and full of obstacles along the way. To take back what was once yours is never easy. Inertia has set in and it will take time to correct the situation. This is what you can expect in the present and near future.
Are you up to the task? I believe you are. I feel I know the type of people you are. I have a friend who I think is one of the most brilliant people I know. As a fabricator and welder he’s one of the best. To hear him talk though you wouldn’t know it. He is one of least self-assuming people that I’ve ever met, but always willing to help his family and friends in little ways that go mostly unnoticed. He is the type of person that in event of a natural disaster you would look to repair the damaged infrastructure, and he would. He is really you the ordinary, underappreciated and overlooked citizens of Coos County. Without you things don’t get done. Never forget that.
That is the citizen of Coos County I know and believe in. There is nothing you can’t accomplish because you are a resourceful people full of hope, courage, skills and dedication to bring forth a better life for yourselves and family. Don’t sell yourselves short, your destiny is now before you, all you have to do is embrace it.
Opinion Piece By Steve Scheer
Citizens of Coos I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts concerning what I’ll call missed opportunities and dumb ideas by your County government and their possible ramifications.
The first item is the instituting a $5 per vehicle recycling fee at the Beaver hill Disposal Site. This fee is fixed unlike regular garage which is calculated by the volume you dispose of. Here again this was never brought before the budget committee last year so we had no chance to critique its significance on either the budget or its long term consequences. I’m afraid that this policy will lead to additional dumping along county roads or its inclusion into regular garbage or both. The first action will result in increased roadside cleanup and disposal costs at Beaver Hill without generating any revenue to show for it. The second action could result in little or no increase in fees and subsequent loss of recycling revenue to the County. It also imposes an additional burden on those citizens on fixed incomes. The 2017-2018 budget shows the Solid Waste department with a $1,400,000 beginning balance and a $300,000 Waste Disposal Reserve. Solid Waste receives no money from the General fund. This therefore falls into the category of a dumb idea.
The second item is the North Bend Annex. The budget committee toured this facility 2 summers ago, the upshot being that they county wanted to dump this asset for little to nothing to anyone willing to take it off their hands once Coos Health and Wellness and State courts vacated. During the tour I noticed and confirmed through our guide that there are 10-12 holding cells in the lower level of the East section. This section could have been remodeled and brought back into service as a Sheriffs satellite station. People arrested in the cities of Lakeside, North Bend and Coos Bay could have been processed there and if the County Jail was full then released from there instead of Coquille. If the suspect needed to be transfer to the County Jail they could be housed at the annex until a van was scheduled to make the trip. The van could also have brought back released prisoners to those cities alleviating Coquilles jail dumping problem. This would have benefited Coquille who saw a large uptick in crime associated with those released suspects now trying to find a way back to their originating city. The Cities mentioned would have also benefited by not having to pay the costs associated with transferring the suspects to Coquille, not to mention the removal of officers from their patrol duties within their cities while they were transporting suspects 40 plus miles round trip. In addition a marketing study could tell us if it would pay to update the entire annex, with an eye towards creating another profit center for the County. One idea could be retail space on the ground floor with residential housing for low income veterans on the upper floor. Any profits could offset the Sheriff satellite station. This therefore falls into the category of a missed opportunity.
The third item is the Whiskey Run Bike trail. This was announced with great fanfare over the summer, and there have been glowing reports about the interest it has generated from within the State and West Coast. Last summer as part of the Forestry Departments tour we walked about a mile of this 9 mile trail, which is expect to be eventually about 30 miles long. The most lasting impression I had of that walk, was how dark it was under the heavy forest canopy, and that there existed in my opinion several areas where the safety of the riders could be subject to criminal activity. My understanding is that the County has no plans to address this issue. Remember this part of the overall trail resides on Coos County Forest property. If any criminal act occurred there the County could find itself facing legal action. A possible solution would be to create a Riley Ranch style park near the trail. This could generate cash flow to the County, but also like Riley Ranch, permanent caretakers’ and Sheriffs presence could be established there with regular patrols of the area to mitigate the possibility of harm to the public and corresponding risk assessment that all our County Parks must address for our insurance carrier. This therefore falls into the categories of a poorly thought out idea and a missed opportunity.
The fourth item is the BLM Bastendorf beach park. It’s my understanding that the County recently had the opportunity to purchase this oceanfront park from BLM for $1. For whatever reason our current Board of Commissioners (BOC) failed to follow through. How often do you get a chance to secure a prime piece of oceanfront property that when combined with the Counties bluff located Bastendorf Beach park create a unique park site found nowhere within a hundred miles of its location. As at Whiskey Run a caretaker presence with regular Sheriffs’ patrols within the park area should be able to alleviate problems associated with illegal camping and disturbances. I broached this subject to one member of the BOC during a County park tour 2 summers ago, and was told that it was undevelopable because it didn’t have sewer. I told him that our bluff park already was connected to sewer and all it would require at the beach park would be to gravity feed to a collection station and then pumped uphill to the bluff park where it could be gravity fed to the existing sewer service there. That BOC member wasn’t interested. This therefor falls into the category of a missed opportunity.
Folks, the County can’t wait to hit the jackpot on some lawsuit, or hope that timber receipts rise to their old record highs. In order for the County to get out of its fiscal mess it going to have to be innovative and seek financial opportunities wherever it can find them. The county needs to do this on its own. It needs to control its own destiny.
Opinion Piece By Steve Scheer
Citizens of Coos County, Budget Committee public hearing time has rolled around again. This week I’ll share with you my observations covering the first two days.
There has been a lot of hyperbole going around about the proposed budget and what it means. In reality it’s the same old budget crises as in past years, just incrementally worse. However the Board of Commissioners (BOC) is again trying to spin it as something they have no control over.
The budget message stated that last year’s budget was balanced from the Forest Reserve Fund, but is now empty. By law the BOC must deliver a balanced budget to the Budget Committee. The projected $2.3 million shortfall was balanced through a drawdown of the Forestry Five Year Rolling Average of Revenue Received in that amount. This action if approved will reduce future yearly payments to the general fund.
I listened over those two days as department after department stated that they could survive the 10% budget cut request, but only for a year. This essentially was by a ‘wing and a prayer’ approach. Example after example showed how critical infrastructure whose life expectancy was running out, needed replacing. If money is not budgeted for those contingencies then catastrophe results could be expected if their failure occurred. The most notable of these were within the County Clerk and Information Technology departments.
The Sheriff is even subject to a 10% reduction even though as I explained in the January 3, 2018 Sentinel issue, the BOC memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bandon Dunes doesn’t allow the Sheriff’s budget to fall below the 2016-2017 operating budget level. The 2017-2018 Sheriff’s budget is 15.61% higher than the 2016-2017 level due mainly to a $1+ million increase in Capital outlays with the rest due to increases in personnel and material & services. Therefore the question to be asked is what the definition of operating level is. I guess that’s one for the lawyers to decide. In any case a 10% reduction from 2017-2018 levels would be $1,129,300. That’s half the projected $2.3 million shortfall. Without a Sheriff’s reduction of 10%, a drawdown of the Forest Rolling Average Fund will have to occur.
The more interesting development is that despite an impassioned defense of their budget by the Assessor and his Deputy, the BOC didn’t heed the detailed examination of their narrative which included innovative budget cut considerations. The BOC doesn’t allow individual departments to innovate, but forces them instead to conform to their approach.
The Assessor proposed that two employees who are willing to voluntarily forego full health insurance because their spouse also have coverage, be allowed to do so. This would result in $24,600 savings. The Assessor has 15 employees, if the same ratio held over the approximate 150 general fund employees this could generate a savings of $246,000 per year. This is not an uncommon practice in private industry. I once participated for over 10 years in one such plan. I even received a small stipend for doing so. The county could say offer $75 per month for someone to enter the program. This would reduce the savings to $224,000, but still significant, and the employee(s) could opt out if their spousal insurance coverage changed.
It also came out during the hearings that there have been pay increases for Department heads and numerous classification changes during the past Fiscal Year. Remember in last week’s issue what I said about the BOC request for salary increases for themselves and Department heads? It appears that they are indeed creating a problem with salaries within the county in order to justify salary increases for themselves. A reasonable person would asked why under such miserable budgetary conditions the BOC would be allowing these actions to occur. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that they don’t care. Money to them grows on trees (pun intended), but their fiduciary responsibility to you the taxpayers doesn’t.
I asked three years ago why the county doesn’t outsource its payroll? They said they wouldn’t save any money by doing so. This is a function best left to professionals, especially with all the mandated federal and state tax and HR changes that occur each year. They take care of all that updating for you, freeing staff time. I once worked for a company whose payroll division was the largest payroll processor in the county. With millions of clients it’s hard to accept that the county couldn’t save money by outsourcing that work.
Accountability has to stop somewhere. The BOC doesn’t think it rests with them, as one member stated ‘we don’t have a crystal ball’. Well folks they have the next best thing, but don’t choose to implement it.
During the 2015-2016 hearings I asked the budget officer if she would prepare a 3 year budget projection going forward. The projection showed deepening budget shortfalls over that period, which included this year. This tool was not carried forward by the new budget officer the past two years. The only logical explanation is, it gives the BOC ‘plausible deniability’.
All good entities have a budget projection document that forecasts over say a 5 year period where each department and aggregately where the entity is headed. This strategic document is updated annually and compared to current budgets to determine how well the forecasting model performed. However it most valuable function is identifying revenue and expenditure trends. In addition it’s a way for departments to keep the executive team informed of which capital improvements may need to be replaced or updated. These items obsolescence can then be planned and budgeted for in an orderly fashion.
Finally, two recurring theme presented themselves over the first two days. The first is those departments making presentations, felt a strong sense of responsibility to keep the County Government running efficiently. They also were willing to assist the BOC in carving out a 10% reduction. They were good team players. The second was that the BOC doesn’t reciprocate their loyalty. It’s the BOC failure to adequately forecast its budget which places those departments in their current straits.
Opinion Piece By Steve Scheer
Citizens of Coos County, week two of the Budget Committee public hearings has ended. This week I’ll share my observations covering days 3&4.
The Board of Commissioners (BOC) had decided on the first day of budget hearings to require all departments to submit a budget with a 10% cut. Applied across the entire budget it would have eliminated the $2.3 Million shortfall.
As stated in last week OpEd, those departments presenting then were able to do so, and still carry out their primary functions. This week was different.
The first day covered law enforcement including the Sheriff, District Attorney, Animal Control, LNG and Dispatch. The upshot is that with a 10% cut, law enforcement in Coos County as we now know it, would cease to exist. The highlights include elimination of 5 position in the Criminal Division. The Jail would have to close the 49 bed pod just opened, and under one scenario have to eliminate the entire 98 beds, leaving 8 holding cells, requiring the County to contract with other entities to provide beds. Dunes and Marine would be similarly impacted.
The District Attorney would have to reclassify misdemeanors as violations. For example thief in the 3rd degree (less than $100), disorderly conduct in the 2nd degree (refusing to leave a place of business) would not be prosecuted.
The BOC of course acted as if they were traumatized at the news, and immediately ceased consideration of any such draconian cuts. Their reaction was indeed theatrical to anyone in the room who’s followed the budgeting process the last 4 years. The consequences of a 10% cut was not a surprise.
The second day covered Coos Health and Wellness (CHW), Juvenile, Forestry, and Road Department (Note: I was absent for the Road Department presentation).
CHW is the Counties growth department. They have grown to 103 employees. Increased their revenue side by $1.5 million dollars, and have a budget matching the County’s General Fund in dollars. They just moved into a new multimillion dollar building in Empire.
Juvenile is working under the same limitations as the other law enforcement agencies, and was also given a pass.
Forestry did tweak the overharvest schedule from 5 years to 3-4 years, but since they have no written plan, it’s hard to take them seriously. The BOC did propose a formula for splitting the overall harvest revenue between the 5 year rolling average and a reserve fund they’ve created to handle the overharvest funds. The reserve is supposed to be dedicated to buying additional timber land, but is not binding on the current or future BOC’s. Remember last week I informed you that the 2017-2018 budget was balanced from the Forestry reserve fund. Therefore when the budget meets reality, nothing is off limits.
In addition two items appeared from the Sheriff outside of the 2018-2019 budget plan. These I would classify as capital improvement projects.
The first is a new estimated $1.5 million outlay to update the currently antiquated County communication system. The system is unreliable, and doesn’t provide 100% County Wide coverage. The proposal creates a quasi-partnership with Coos Forest Protective to provide a shared infrastructure that all agencies including rural fire could use.
The second is a Dispatch software upgrade. The current vendor has hiked the software licensing fees in some cases 1000% (that’s not a typo). The increases are to pay for a future software upgrade that may be available in 3 years. The current software limitations, and because there is no assurance the price increase will result in an upgrade, the Sheriff is proposing migration to a new more stable vendor. The estimated cost is $300,000.
To be fair, the Sheriff has been sounding alarm bells for at least 3 years that the County communication system was approaching its life expectancy.
The first four days had in my opinion the feel of a staged event. BOC members requesting 10% cuts of departments, knowing beforehand it wouldn’t be possible. Then taking line in the sand stands that this department or that will be saved, because the need is so great. Folks this is grandstanding, this budget is the 6th this BOC has worked on together. They should know the effect any change they make will be.
The budget will be balanced, it has to be by law. Every year the BOC reveals on the last day once all the cost cutting has been done, additional sources of revenue only they know about. In addition two departments haven’t been heard from yet because they’re non-general fund departments.
The first is Waste Disposal. As stated previously they have a $1.4 beginning balance from last July, and a $300,000 Reserve. Money has been appropriated from this department in the past to offset budget shortfalls.
The second is the Parks Department. The BOC has transferred $140,000 and $155,800 the last two years to the general fund. Actually those monies should have been returned to the Forestry Reserve fund since the construction of the Riley Ranch dune Access Bridge was funded from it. Though it doesn’t really matter, since the BOC raided the Forestry Reserve fund last year anyway.
The BOC is also considering returning entire departments to the State. Those mentioned prominently are Elections and the Assessor. This is not a good idea. We the taxpayers of Coos County will still be on the hook to the State for its cost, but without citizen oversight. Once again the BOC would be abdicating its budgetary responsibility.
If additional money is still needed the BOC will just reduce the original $2.3 million contribution from the 5 year rolling average fund, by those cost savings generated, transfers from other departments, other revenue they’ve been hiding and call the budget balanced.
Since there is no long-range budget forecast model, next year will find them incrementally worst. Unfortunately the 5 year rolling average will be lower due to this year’s drawdown, and the Forestry reserve fund may not contain any funding yet. Remember all timber sales allow the buyers up to three years to harvest, though they must make yearly progress payments. Doesn’t matter, it probably won’t be enough, but who cares, remember the BOC has stated they don’t have a ‘crystal ball’.