Home » Fiscal Responsibility » Lane County Oregon – Now in Layoffs!

Lane County Oregon – Now in Layoffs!

We recently wrote about the hiring binge in Lane County, wondering if County Leadership found a big pile of money as certainly they wouldn’t condone hiring in one area while laying off public safety workers. Of course not, we wrote, to do so would be irresponsible and negligent as citizens continue to tell the county public safety is priority number one. But it appears we were wrong; now we see the plan really is to continue hiring in non public safety areas, while laying off employees in public safety. But let the Register-Guard tell the story.

To balance the budget for the fiscal year that starts in three weeks, Lane County officials plan to cut more than $4.5 million by releasing more jail inmates, eliminating some road projects, reducing treatment programs and slashing dozens of jobs, officials said Friday.

Les Sieczkowski, union president for deputy sheriffs and other public safety workers, said the cuts would run counter to public support for public safety. “The commissioners should look at their programs and prioritize them, and then cut the programs that the public seems to have less interest in,” Sieczkowski said.

But county officials have said they have no choice but to include public safety in the cuts, given that such services absorb as much as 65 percent of the county’s discretionary revenue.

The Lane County commissioners will review the proposed cuts in adopting a budget later this month. The heart of the problem is that county revenue increases about 3 percent a year while county expenses, driven by employee wages and benefits, rise at twice that rate.

Gee, part of the increase couldn’t be due to all the new hiring in non-critical areas? No, of course not, County Leadership wouldn’t layoff public safety employees to pay for non-priority hiring, would they? Yet that appears to be exactly the plan. County Commissioners can’t feign ignorance on the issue either, as they’re going to sign-off on the plan. So it appears the plan is to willfully and with forethought cut public safety, while continuing the hiring binge in non-critical areas (and maybe even give more raises to directors, like December of 2006).

Now that’s fiscal leadership.

It’s a good thing they hired a “207-029 NUISANCE ABATEMENT SPECIALIST” on May 25 this year — we wonder how the county could function without one; without a nuisance abatement specialist the county would plunge into chaos. How many public safety jobs will they layoff to pay the new salary of this and other non-critical employees?

  • 207-021 BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER. Filled May 25, 2007.
  • 207-016 Performance Development & Diversity Coordinator. Filled May 30, 2007.
  • 207-025 LAND MANAGEMENT MANAGER. Currently conducting interviews.
  • 207-029 NUISANCE ABATEMENT SPECIALIST. Filled May 25, 2007.
  • 207-024 PROPERTY APPRAISER 3. Conducting interviews.

Just a few examples of new hiring shows the complete and utter contempt County leadership has for the citizens of Lane County, who continue to state public safety is priority number one. But for county leadership a nuisance abatement specialist is more important than public safety. As the newspaper reports the Commissioners will approve the new budget plan (including hiring and layoffs), so we can only assume they believe a nuisance abatement specialist takes priority over public safety since they have the power to change spending priorities to public safety and refuse to do so.

Look at http://www.co.lane.or.us/jobs/ and see how many are not in the area of public safety.

In short, when “county officials have said they have no choice but to include public safety in the cuts”, they’re not exactly telling the whole story. How many public safety jobs could be spared if they implemented a hiring freeze a year ago, as a prudent and fiscally responsible person would? (Instead, they gave out raises, hired new non public-safety employees, and announced layoffs in Sheriff and jail personnel).

County leadership refuses to take the simple step of a hiring freeze, instead choosing to hire in non-critical areas while laying off public safety employees. We can only imagine the bizarre reasoning for the pathetic prioritization in the county budget, but could it be a public shakedown for more money? If they gut public safety (citizens’ number 1 priority), perhaps they can shakedown Lane County citizens into supporting a new tax.

Yet all the new hiring (with simultaneous layoffs in critical areas) begs the question: What exactly are the priorities for Lane County Commissioners? It sure isn’t public safety.

Citizens deserve answers from county leadership for the following:

  • Why, after being told by citizens public safety is #1, do you continue to hire in non public-safety areas, with the result you layoff what citizens say is priority nubmer 1?
  • Why hasn’t a hiring freeze been implemented?
  • Why in December 2006 were raises quietly given to directors and managers, while announcing to the media the need for layoffs of public safety workers?
  • Why refuse to use the reserve fund?
  • What is the plan to prioritize spending to public safety? And what exactly are the current spending priorities (since they aren’t public safety)?

It’s time for County Commissioners to speak up and answer the tough questions, giving citizens the answers they deserve. It’s the least you can do when you’re going to ask for yet another tax increase to pay for failed and bungled fiscal policy.

Let’s hear the answer, County Commissioners. What say you?

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Edwards says:

    Yep, I think it’s ridiculous for the county to even spend a dime on a “Diversity Analyst” – whatever that is. But I disagree with your claim that public safety is a priority in Lane County. This County has the lowest per-capita police officer density in the United States – and it’s taken almost 27 years to get there.

    The Lane County jail is less than HALF the size it needs to be to manage our criminal population, and 40% of the existing facility, now about 30 years old and falling apart, is either vacant or rented out to other governments because the county doesn’t even have the funds to run the mini-jail it has.

    Our Sheriff is forced to run a “traffic team” in order to 1) generate revenue to support the team and the traffic court, because without the ticket-revenue there would be no traffic officers at all, and they answered 70% of the priority one calls in 2006-7 because nobody else was there. (“Priority One” calls are those involving risk to life, not just property.)

    The Sheriff is now down to four detectives in a division that used to house 16 in the early 80s when there were fewer people and MUCH less crime.

    The average Sheriff shift consists of two patrol deputies and a patrol sergeant – to cover 4,600 square miles. According to the DA, the Sheriff had to call out unarmed weigh-masters to help secure a murder scene because he ran out of uniformed deputies and the State Police had no more troopers to give!

    Meanwhile, I see Lane County has the highest (best) line-worker to supervisor ratio in the state at almost 13 to 1. The Oregon private sector average is approximately 10 to one, the public sector average is 7 to 1, and the City of Eugene is less than 6 to 1! The county has HALF the Eugene staffing in Human Resources, though the organizations are approximately the same size. Lane County DAs and POs have the highest caseloads in the state, and extremely high performance ratings, AND they’re paid MUCH less than their counterparts in similar sized Oregon counties, and MUCH, MUCH less than their private sector counterparts. We don’t care – every year we vote to cut’em all just the same! Wahoo! Yeah!

    The DA had 11 investigators in 1981; twenty-five years later the county population has increased by over 60,000, the crime rate is up 240%, but the number of DA investigators has been cut from 11 to only 1. The number of DAs has been cut by 35%! Lane County DAs now have caseloads in the state – 65% higher than the Oregon average – and that’s with many of the misdemeanor cases not even being filed!

    Then there is the PERS problem. Lane County sued the PERS board and won. That lawsuit caused reforms that resulted in current employee benefits being cut by as much as 40%, but Lane County got ZERO credit for taking that initiative. Amazingly, most citizens leading the anti-Lane County charge don’t even know that the new gutted, no-match PERS plan has been in place since January of 2004.

    Is there some waste at the county? I think so, but that’s because many of Eugene citizens WANT the money spent in stupid ways – like a “Diversity Analyst” and Human Rights Commissions that do NOTHING. Still, if the county put EVERY general fund dollar, the only money they actually control, into the public safety departments, it wouldn’t even be enough money to return to the lousy public safety staffing of 2001 – when Lane County was already the laughing stock of Western law enforcement. Of course, SOME general fund money has to be spent on Elections, right? And the state insisted on a minimum staffing agreement with the county two years ago, because the county staffing levels in Assessment and Taxation were the lowest in Oregon, and too low to get the job done properly. As a result, if the county fails to maintain the present staffing levels, still well below average, the state will withhold its substantial subsidy (almost $2 million, and that’s MUCH more than could be saved by failing to fill positions at Assessment and Taxation.) Then there is Human Resources, Payroll, Administration, Health and Human Services (mental health, WIC, infectious diseases, etc), Lands & Building permits, all already staffed well below recommended standards…

    Could the county save money? You bet. They could start by eliminating the few remaining unnecessary positions like “diversity analyst”. But I spent two full days reading and comparing the county budget, all public record, and I found less than $600,000 in what I considered unnecessary waste — about 1% of the general fund. If the objective was to bring the public safety system up to national average staffing, it would require AT LEAST another $25 million annually, and that doesn’t include the cost of replacing the existing jail with one of the proper capacity – a construction cost estimated at over $100 million – and that doesn’t include the cost of replacing the federal handout money under “Secure Rural Schools”. That’s another $27 million for roads and forests PLUS another $20 million for the general fund.

    So the present general fund of about $60 million would need to be about $85 million (PLUS $10 million annually to bond the $100 million jail rebuild). That could bring us up near U.S. staffing averages. But that’s not where we’re going. Instead, Lane County is going to lose an additional $20 million. If we’re lucky, the federal handout will be gradually reduced. The Wyden plan currently before Congress calls for 10% in the federal handout each of the next three years, then a 40% reduction before going to zero after four more years (a total of five years). After that Lane County will be required to provide road repair, bridge construction, fire suppression, search and rescue and everything else for free in the 55% of Lane County land that is owned by the federal government and not subject to taxation! Yahooo! Well, at least it’s only about 2,400 square miles of federal land 😉

    Meanwhile, people who haven’t read the county budget or done the analysis can always point to a few non-essential, political programs the county continues to fund under public pressure. (“Metro TV” is one, parks is another, as is the Extension Service… all good programs, but none of which are “essential”.) They’re all part of MY list of things to cut. But when the commissioners cut the parks to divert the money to public safety people threatened recall. When they suggested reductions in LCARA (animal regulation) people threatened recall. When they threatened another cut in the jail? Not a single complaint. Not one.

    Unfortunately, my personal cut-list exercise generated less than one million dollars, and that doesn’t do much to fill the $35 million hole in public safety today – or the $55 million hole they’ll by trying to fill in three more years when another $20 million in general fund is lost.

    Oh well. Lane County has cut positions in 13 of the last 16 years, and the citizens are just fine with it. Yes, it’s brought our formerly pleasant community into the lead in terrible criminal activity. (According to the radio news today, Lane County is in the 98th percentile in the USA for car theft and the 95th percentile for burglary — and Lane County had 11 people charged with armed robbery LAST WEEK! Robbery in Lane County was up 50% last year!)

    Clearly SOME of the county staffing problem flows from the fact that Lane County receives less than 9 cents of each property tax dollar it collects. In fact, Lane County receives less than $1.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value. By contrast, the average of the Oregon metro counties (Around Portland, Salem etc.) is over to $3 per $1,000! Several of them receive over 3 times the tax support rate of Lane County. Multnomah county was in that category AND added an income tax on top of it. Go figure.

    We citizens don’t give a rip about the progress our county has made. We don’t care that their performance ranks at or near the top in the state, or that they do it with tax revenue rates 50% to 72% below what other metro counties receive. We just want to see them cut some MORE!! Yahoo!

    There are nine police agencies in Lane County. If the sworn staff at every one of them was doubled we’d be near national average.

    According to the radio this morning (KKNU) the Oregon State Police had 76 troopers in Lane County in 1981. Now they have only 26. If the governor’s “100 new troopers” actually happens, Lane County might get ten or twelve of them. That would bring our area up just over HALF what we had in 1981. That doesn’t happen by accident. We’re simply not willing to pay what the rest of the country pays for law enforcement — and that’s why our total tax burden ranks 39th out of 50 states. If we had passed BOTH of the last public safety taxes we’d STILL be below national average total tax burden – but we don’t want to be there.

    At least I don’t want to be there. I’d prefer to whine – and have my house burglarized, again, and have my truck window smashed, again, when I shop at Jerrys…

  2. $600,000 is about 5-7 FTE employees. That’s all the “waste” you found in the budget? Why are they still hiring at all? Why did they quietly give out raises to management last year?

    Here’s a sampling of what they’re still hiring as of Oct 8:

    207-094 COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR $150,000
    207-095 HEALTHCARE OPERATIONS MANAGER $60,000-$80,000
    207-025 LAND MANAGEMENT MANAGER $100,000

    That’s about $300,000 right there – and that doesn’t include all the past hiring, like a “nuisance abatement specialist”. And that only examines one part of the budget – new hires. So you think only $600,000 exists in unnecessary spending in the entire budget? In less than 30 seconds a quick look of the current jobs shows at least $300k in new management hiring. Why has the county not instituted a hiring freeze? Isn’t that common sense?

    So the question is, how many millions are spent unnecessarily? Why isn’t public safety priority number one? The commissioners are strangely silent, unless it’s complaining about the need for tax increases.

    I don’t agree that “we’re not willing to pay what the rest of the country pays for law enforcement”. Rather, the County Commissioners refuse to make spending on public safety a priority and continue to spend in other areas – even after being told multiple times by citizens to prioritize spending on safety.

    Out of control spending and lack of priorities is the problem; blaming citizens for not passing every tax increase isn’t productive – elected officials are responsible for performing their jobs according to the priorities of the people – and Lane County refuses to do so, instead choosing to continue to spend and then whine about failure to pass tax increases so they can continue to ignore citizen’s priorities.

    But you’re right, public safety is most certainly NOT a priority of the Lane County Commissioners.

  3. D Moore says:

    Thank you, Bill Edwards, for a very thorough explanation of the current fiscal situation in Lane County. It’s perplexing that very few citizens in Lane County take the time to understand the limitations on the budget; limitations that they, the citizenry, have voted on. In 1985 Lane Co. voters approved an amendment that set a spending limit on General Fund expenditures. Then there’s the Measure 50 property tax limitation, which currently provides a meger $1.2798 dollars per $1,000 of assessed property value to the county budget and can only be increased 3% per year. Nor do many understand that of the $455.9 million proposed budget for the 08-09 fiscal year, only $54.1 million is truly discretionery, “no strings attached.” What “Constitutional Conservative” isn’t taking into consideration when posting these job openings is the nature of funding for various county departments. Health and Human Services receives dedicated revenues, as does the Road Fund and Title 111 Projects, just to name a few. There are requirements for receiving those funds and to continue receiving them. Having an operations manager would seem to make sense to me for any business, or in this case a division of the county. Land Management is another department that receives dedicated funds and has requirements, many of which are established by the vote of citizens, on the funds it receives. Public Safety does receive the bulk of the truly “no strings attached” money that the county receives so it only makes sense that that’s the county department that’s going to take the biggest hit when you’re talking about the significant loss of SRS funds. I don’t understand everything about the county budget, but I am making every effort to become as informed as I can be because I rely solely on the county for public safety. I don’t live within the city limits and have the luxury of availability to Eugene or Springfield Police departments. The current fiscal cutbacks in the Sheriff’s department greatly impact each of us, but especially those outside the city limits. Until voter’s understand where county funds come from and what they can specifically be used for I believe Lane County will continue its decline in services, staffing and available programs. What’s truly sad is what we’re asking of county employees, especially deputies, by not providing appropriate funding for them to do their jobs. If they choose to go to another county that values its public service employees by providing adequate support and funding, who can blame them.

  4. Laula Hearne says:

    If the Lane County Sheriff department could stop sending 3 to 4 of there officers to ruarl and private areas and keep them in the city where most of the crimes take place. I do not believe there is a lot of crime or criminals on land locked behind gates or unincorperated towns in Lane County

  5. Laula Hearne says:

    did you yet my reply??

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