Home » Fiscal Responsibility » Lane County Oregon – Now Hiring!

Lane County Oregon – Now Hiring!

Don’t worry about the budget “doomsday”

So the Lane County budget is a “doomsday” waiting to happen (according to Commissioners). A prudent person would take steps to save money, right? Not Lane County. Not only have they given raises of up to 20% (December 2006) over several years (from $98,000 to $118,000) to directors, they’re in the midst of a hiring binge!

Many people express the stunningly obvious idea public safety is the County’s #1 priority. In light of that, and the financial “doomsday” the Commissioners claim, we’ll let the reader decide the wisdom of these new hires (as of 5/30/2007, see the current list for yourself at http://www.co.lane.or.us/jobs/ ):

  • 207-044 CLINICAL SERVICES SUPERVISOR ($25-$33/hour)
  • 207-037 MHO CARE COORDINATION SPECIALIST ($19-$27/hour)
  • 207-040 PHYSICIAN ($90,000 – $125,000 /year)
  • 3 Network Programmers/analysts ($50,000 – $68,000 / year)
  • 206-146 ASSISTANT COUNTY COUNSEL (not just one, but two!)
  • Engineering Assistant and Technician
  • Executive Assistant
  • Human Resources Analysis
  • And our personal favorite: 207-029 NUISANCE ABATEMENT SPECIALIST

… and so on.

For families in Oregon, if you’re caught in the squeeze of rising costs (gas, healthcare, etc) and short of money you prioritize, budget and eliminate non-essentials (and certainly don’t take on new financial obligations). But not if you’re a Lane County Commissioner. Then you give out raises, spend on non-priorities, hire more people, whine when you lay them off, and then try to raise taxes to fix the fiscal insanity brought on by poor decisions and a wanton disregard for the voting citizens.

Are they telling all these new hires the job is only temporary? It would be unethical to hire people knowing money doesn’t exist to keep them after a year. Or is the plan to keep these new positions, and layoff others? Or do they have a secret pile of cash to pay for all these new hires? Or do they have a plan at all? We’re sure they have a plan, since it’s fiscal suicide to increase monetary obligations during financial uncertainty (and given the recent thumping of the tax increase, their new plan couldn’t involve a new tax, as that would be foolish after voters rejected over a dozen tax proposals).

They must have a plan to handle all this, and the 8% budget variance at the same time.

Here’s just a few ideas to help them with the budget (which we’ve said before, and are nothing more than obvious ideas):

  • Most important, learn to prioritize spending. Public safety/law enforcement and road services are primary functions of County government. Fund those fully for public safety, and with whatever is left over fund any remaining programs. Anything at the bottom probably isn’t required.
  • Implement an immediate hiring freeze which should have been done years ago. No need for layoffs, just let natural attrition reduce the workforce.
  • Immediate freeze in travel, conferences, new equipment, etc.
  • Use part of the huge reserve fund to stabilize the budget while reductions are made — thus avoiding layoffs of hard-working employees.
  • Don’t give out large raises to managers and others while announcing layoffs for other employees. (duh!)

Sadly, the more you learn about the County budget and the way it’s managed, the worse it looks. Why are they hiring when for the last year they talk about layoffs? Why give out raises to some, and pink slips to others? Why ask for more taxes, when little attempt is made to control spending? Why not use the reserve fund? Is this a fiscally responsible way to run a public organization?

Sadly, it appears the Commissioners have no plan to change their actions, so the citizens can look forward to repeating this whole mess again in a year. Swell.

Remember, if you’re a nuisance abatement specialist, the county has a job for you! But maybe only for a year …

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3 Comments

  1. […] cuts in public safety, while the county continues its hiring binge? (We’ve reported on the County’s hiring binge before, and nothing has changed since May […]

  2. Bill Edwards says:

    The Health and Human Services budget for the next fiscal year is approximately $105 million, of which less that $5 million — less than 5% — is within the control of the commissioners, as it’s part of that massive welfare tidal wave that originates in Washington and Salem. It’s not county money, but it’s “administered” through the county. The net result is the county hires to fill those positions that are funded by that money, like the physician listed above, just as it hires to fill for the positions supported by the dedicated road funds. Failing to fill those positions will not solve the county fiscal crisis.

    I was present for the first meeting of the public safety task force early in 2004. The first step was to define the magnitude of the problem. At that point public safety absorbed 72% of the Lane County general fund, the fund which also pays for elections, computer services, elections, assessment and taxation, human resources, payroll, children and families and administration, including the commissioners. At that point, if every other county general fund department was eliminated completely, and the remaining 28% of the general fund was fully applied to public safety, it wouldn’t have been enough to get the Sheriff, the DA and the juvenile corrections programs up to HALF of the staff they had in 1981, when Lane County was “average” in per-capita police officer staffing. Obviously, nobody contemplated completely eliminating elections and taxation. Actually, since 2006 Lane County has been bound by an agreement it made with the state as a result of Lane County’s chronic understaffing of Assessment and taxation. The agreement required L.C. to hire several more staff members and retain them as a condition of continuing to receive $1.8 million from the state to support the operation.

    In 1981 the Sheriff had 18 detectives in criminal investigations. Since then the Lane County population has increased by over 60,000, the crime rate has more than doubled, and the number of detectives has been slashed to 4. The DA has 11 investigators (cops) in his criminal division in 1981, but only 1 is left today; he also had 29 Deputy DAs in that division in 1981, and only 21 of those are left to handle 2.4 times the work. The jail was 75% of the size it needed to be in 1981. Now it’s 40% of the size it needs to be (physically) AND 100 beds are closed AND 125 beds are rented to the federal government and metro cities AND the state is using at least another 80 beds for other use — so the NET jail space available has dropped from about 70% of what is needed to approximately 15% of what is needed. (According to the recently departed Captain Williams, who couldn’t escape Lane County fast enough, Lane needs at least 1,100 jail beds in order to be able to hold inmates for up to 80% of the sentence ordered. Lane County has 275 beds that are not rented to feds or cities. Unfortunately, since the late 1990s we’ve been stuck managing a dynamic average of approximately 200 state inmates that used to be housed in state prison. According to the court release officer, Brooke Marshall, we average “between 130 and 150 beds for local use”. That number is expected to drop below 30 beds when the current round of budget cuts is fully implemented. Here’s the real joke. If the income tax HAD passed, and all of the money went to public safety as planned, Lane’s staffing STILL would have been in the bottom half for Oregon and the bottom 10% for the USA. How’s that possible? Just look at the difference in the taxes we pay compared to the other states. According to “GOOGLE”, our overall tax burden ranks 39th out of 50 states. I’m not arguing for more, but I’m realistic. I don’t expect our county commissioners to produce adequate public safety with 37% of the average Oregon county property tax rate. (Lane County is at $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Multnomah County is well over $4, and most of the other metro counties are not too far behind.)

  3. The Health and Human Services budget for the next fiscal year is approximately $105 million, of which less that $5 million — less than 5% — is within the control of the commissioners

    If we accept your analysis as true, that still means the County can move $5 million (only 5% of one area’s budget as you say) to what the citizens continue to state as priority #1 — public safety, jail and sheriff. But they won’t — instead, they’ll hire more, and threaten to close the jail. If a sheriff’s yearly cost (salary + benefits) costs $100,000/year, just that 5% of one area could add 50 new patrol officers, and by your analysis IS within their control.

    You just demonstrated the lack of fiscal responsibility and refusal to respond to what citizens what — the County Commissioners priorities simply aren’t in line with citizens’. The County continues to come up with excuses why they can’t do something and instead choose to do nothing, as their only acceptable solution is more taxes.

    I don’t expect our county commissioners to produce adequate public safety with 37% of the average Oregon county property tax rate. (Lane County is at $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Multnomah County is well over $4, and most of the other metro counties are not too far behind.)

    The old “just give us more money, and we’ll do the right thing” argument. Of course, anyone who supports new taxes is free (and invited) to send their $$$ to Lane County — they’ll be happy to spend it. In any case, relating tax revenue to other counties is meaningless — you can’t compare the situations as there are simply too many factors for a simplistic comparison.

    The bottom line is Lane County’s government leaders have priorities which aren’t in line with citizen’s. That’s the problem.

    Fund public safety FIRST, everything else is at the back of the line.

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