Lawmakers hear voices of economic hardship

Officials, citizens ask for compassion in budget cuts at town hall meeting

They came from across Southern Oregon to plead against cuts to services for the developmentally disabled, community colleges, law enforcement, additions recovery, extension campuses, child services and 4-H.

Most of those who packed the Medford Armory Friday evening to voice concerns before a panel of politicians responsible for fixing Oregon's damaged budget knew they would have to absorb cuts to their programs over the next two years.

The town hall meeting was called by the state's Ways and Means Committee, which will start cutting $3.5 billion out of the budget over the next few weeks to mend a tough shortfall.

Among the panel members were Reps. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, as well as Sens. Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.

The politicians listened while more than 100 people took to the microphone to argue in favor of saving projects close to their hearts.

Barbara Hendrick of Eagle Point asked the panel to consider keeping services to the developmentally disabled intact.

Hendrick is the executive director of Creative Supports Inc., a non-profit that provides services to the disabled such as hooking them up with jobs, giving them rides to work and medical appointments.

"We already took a 10-percent cut this year," Hendrick said. "This resulted in a layoff. And we have only 18 staff members to cover Jackson and Josephine counties. As a nonprofit we are as lean as we can get."

Hendrick said she is aware of at least three reductions in service brokerages proposed in Salem. These could result in 60 disabled people in Jackson and Josephine losing support services and around 60 support staff layoffs.

Jackson County Circuit Court Lorenzo A. Mejia warned the panel not to reduce court services to four days per week. This happened in 2002, he said, and caused a number of problems in the local criminal justice system.

Officials from Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College described how their students already were facing spiking tuition and some will not be able to afford higher education of more cuts are made to the state university system.

The Oregon State University extension campus extensions were represented by administrator Philip Van Buskirk, who asked that the school's extensions services not be cut by a proposed 17 to 20 percent.

Buskirk said the extensions are places that help people learn to grow food locally and they work with successful industries such as wine and fruit to solve problems such as insect pests.

"All we ask is that they cut us by the same 8 percent they are looking to cut from the universities," he said. "A 20-percent cut will be a major loss of faculty across the state."

Medford police Chief Randy Schoen asked that addictions recovery programs remained funded. He said that keeping people off drugs and alcohol will ultimately save the state money in the long run if these people stay out of the criminal justice system and hospitals.

Seventeen-year-old Shae Rogers of Eagle Point High School said that losing the OSU extension center in Jackson County would essentially end the local 4-H program. 4-H uses the center without cost to host meetings, banquets, livestock judging and award ceremonies.

"We do a lot of our own fundraising, but we can't afford to pay for a place like the extension center," she said.

Eric Olson, of Ashland, received a stout round of applause when he spoke of the need of politicians to come together to figure a way out of the budget mess created by the Great Recession.

He has so far liked what he's seen from local Republicans and Democrats such as Richardson and Bates who have shown the ability to work with each side to tackle issues.

"Across the country you see such horrendous partisan politics," he said. "The solution lies somewhere in the middle and not the two extremes."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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