As county officials put together a $325 million budget Wednesday, a shadow loomed over the health department, which could lose 20 percent of its funding for programs ranging from immunizations for children to care for the disabled, veterans and mental-health patients.

As county officials put together a $325 million budget Wednesday, a shadow loomed over the health department, which could lose 20 percent of its funding for programs ranging from immunizations for children to care for the disabled, veterans and mental-health patients.

"Simply, at some point, we will not be able to do more with less," said Mark Orndoff, director of the county's Health and Human Services Department.

Of its $50 million budget, more than $33 million comes from the state, which leaves Orndoff's department vulnerable to state cutbacks. He said the budget problems could mean some of the programs the county now runs might have to be turned over to the state.

Orndoff made his presentation to the Jackson County Budget Committee, made up of three county commissioners and three community members.

The Budget Committee approved a budget proposal Wednesday that would leave the county with $70 million in reserves and a leaner staff. The budget will get final approval by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in June.

Budget Committee member Craig Morris said the state has warned that 30 percent of funding could be cut from state-supported programs, which would be about $10 million out of the $33 million the health department gets from Oregon. The state has projected a budget shortfall of $4 billion for the upcoming biennium.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said some Oregon officials have said privately that the state budget shortfall may be closer to $5 billion.

The state provides $72 million to the county, most of which can be spent only on specific programs, such as roads, bond measures and health services.

In the health department, many programs rely heavily on state revenues.

For instance, the developmental disabilities office receives almost 100 percent of its money from the state. That pays for 17 employees who handle 790 cases in which clients have low IQ's or have a condition such as cerebral palsy or autism.

Orndoff, who has left open 14 positions to help prepare for revenue losses, said even as the state discusses cutbacks, the demand for services has shot up over last year statewide.

More than 671,000 Oregonians have applied for food stamps, a 30 percent hike, he said. Almost 26,000 families qualify for temporary cash assistance, a 24 percent jump. And 565,500 Oregonians are eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, a 23 percent increase.

Orndoff said Jackson County makes up 5 to 6 percent of the demand for these services statewide.

Health and human services isn't the only department nervously eyeing the state's budget woes.

Almost a third of the Community Justice Department's $14 million budget comes from the state. The Sheriff's Department gets about 20 percent of its budget from the state.

Many departments have been building reserves that could help offset some of the losses. Health and Human Services has about $8 million in reserves, though most of that money is obligated by the state to be spent on specific programs.

"In Jackson County, we're going to mitigate a lot of the services better than many other counties," said county administrator Danny Jordan.

County departments are left guessing about the funding they'll receive from the state because the Legislature doesn't develop a budget until it gets revenue projections in mid-May.

"Each year it's a huge guessing game," Jordan said. "The state hasn't acted swiftly through the entire budget process."

Smith criticized the state budget process, saying it doesn't provide a buffer for economic hard times and leaves local governments in the dark until after they've signed off on their own budgets.

"They just don't have the political structure to move decisively at the top or in the middle," he said.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the county cannot be expected to prop up programs if state funding is slashed. "The services either have to be reduced or go away," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.