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Auditor: Jackson County finances strong

Jackson County is in a strong financial position despite dwindling federal payments meant to offset losses in timber revenues for counties, according to auditors.

"You've done very well managing through a challenging time and perhaps a lot better than some of your peers out there," James Lanzarotta, a partner with the auditing firm Moss Adams LLP, said in a recent presentation to county officials.

Rural counties are struggling to cope with the loss of federal payments that compensated them after steep logging declines cut into timber harvest revenues shared with counties. Jackson County has a large share of federal land within its borders that is not subject to county property taxes.

Lanzarotta noted Jackson County has millions of dollars less in revenue than four years ago, largely because of declining federal payments. Yet the county has continued to invest in infrastructure such as roads, bridges and equipment.

He said many other government entities are falling behind on infrastructure investments.

"They're going to have to write a big check at some point down the road. You've been writing those checks and keeping things maintained," Lanzarotta said.

Overall spending is down for the county. Expenditures were $160 million four years ago, compared to $146 million last year. Revenue four years ago was $170 million and dipped to $153 million last year, Lanzarotta said.

He said the county has been successful at attracting outside grants and contributions from the state and federal government and other sources. That has allowed the county to continue providing services to its residents. 

County general fund balances that carry over and act as a financial safeguard have fallen from $73 million in 2010 to $47 million in 2014, Lanzarotta said.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said Jackson County had the highest general fund balance of any county in the state four years ago, including Portland's Multnomah County, which has a bigger property tax base. Jackson County is now in second place.

"We've spent it down making investments, but we've also maintained a very secure position, especially compared to other counties in the state," Jordan said.

Lanzarotta said the county doesn't have any unfunded obligations toward the Public Employee Retirement System, the retirement plan for government workers.

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report prepared by Jackson County was free of material errors and violations of state and federal compliance regulations — a significant accomplishment for an entity of Jackson County's size, auditors said.

"Perfection is nice to strive for, but it's probably an unattainable goal. This is probably about as close as we've seen in a long time," Lanzarotta said.

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said the error-free document was a testament to the outstanding work of county employees. 

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.