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County officials won't get pay hike

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners and other elected county officials and managers won't get cost of living increases under Jackson County's proposed budget for 2013-14.

The move would save the county about $204,000, a small portion of the general fund's $7 million shortfall. Declines in interest rates, property taxes and timber payments combined with an increase in employee pension payments to create the shortfall.

"It's a no-brainer," said Commissioner Doug Breidenthal of the move. "We can't ask for a pay increase while we're cutting dollars."

Under the proposal from County Administrator Danny Jordan, the salary freeze for the top level employees would be accompanied by cuts throughout the county's operations, including more than two dozen positions lost in public safety departments.

The wage proposal still has to be approved by the budget committee.

The proposed total budget is $301.9 million, down from about $316 million in the previous year's budget. Those figures represent all revenues that pass through the county, including state and federal funds.

Jordan's budget proposal doesn't include cost of living increases for elected officials, confidential employees and managers.

"It would be awkward for me to be implementing pay increases and turn around and ask our collective bargaining units not to," said Jordan.

That still leaves the question of what to do with the remaining budget gap of about $6.8 million. The county's budget committee, administrator and commissioners will meet this week during budget hearings to sort that out.

Budget committee members said the option to use rainy day reserves to cover a portion of the general fund difference is on the table unless the committee can make enough cuts to cover the shortfall.

Officials say public safety departments, including the sheriff's office, community justice and the district attorney's office are facing a larger portion of potential cuts than in past years. The proposed budget calls for the DA's office to eliminate three positions and community justice to lay off eight employees and cut an additional 2.75 positions through attrition. The sheriff's department would cut nearly 22 positions, all through attrition.

"You'll see a larger portion of the funds coming from public safety," Jordan said.

Eliminated positions at the sheriff's office include managerial, deputy and clerical positions, according to the proposed budget.

While Community Justice took some financial hits, it could have been worse. Jordan worked with Shane Hagey, director for Jackson County Community Justice, to provide $1.1 million in additional general fund dollars beyond the level initially being considered.

Hagey said without that funding, juvenile programs, bed space at the transition center, female offender services, drug and alcohol treatment and job readiness services would be at risk.

"You don't just punish the crime, you've also got to treat the cause, and substance abuse is a huge factor in that," Hagey said.

Proposed cuts to the DA's office would eliminate a deputy district attorney position, meaning the office would no longer be able to prosecute such things as drug residue cases. A suspect caught with a pipe or spoon that had a small amount of drug residue on it, for example, would not be prosecuted.

Jackson County wouldn't be alone in not prosecuting those kinds of offenses.

"Many other counties have gone to where they don't prosecute residue-type cases," Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said at the Tuesday budget committee meeting. "Those will be the cases we just send back to the (police) agencies."

Heckert said the elimination of a restitution clerk would affect how quickly the office can prepare restitution orders. A child support receptionist would also be cut under the proposed budget.

"Hopefully the public isn't going to see a big impact from that," Heckert said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.