Budget committee approves county budget of $573.8 million

MEDFORD, Ore. — The Jackson County Budget Committee unanimously approved a $573.8 million annual budget that includes $209.1 million in reserves.

The committee, made up of three county residents and the three county commissioners, made the decision on Thursday. The budget must be approved at an upcoming meeting of county commissioners before taking effect in July for the financial year.

In government accounting, governments must add expenditures and reserves to equal their budget totals.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said citizens might be alarmed when they see a budget of more than half a billion dollars, but the total includes significant caveats.

Jackson County has steadily strengthened its financial position over the past decade and received another major boost from federal aid, including $42.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, which passed by Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said some residents say the county should use its reserves to meet needs like a bigger jail. However, he said about half of the county’s reservations are tied to specific areas.

Federal Aviation Administration grants, for example, are to be used for the county-run Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.

Craig Morris, a citizen budget committee member, said the county made smart financial decisions, such as self-insurance for its employees to avoid high health insurance costs and setting aside extra cash. for public employee pension system bonds to get matching dollars from the state.

Jackson County’s strong financial position contrasts with the difficulties of some other local governments. The City of Ashland is offering general discounts to solve its financial problems. Josephine County is considering a tax hike or layoffs after county commissioners and the sheriff hired patrol deputies without sustainable funding and now faces a multimillion-dollar shortfall for the sheriff’s office.

Under the proposed budget, the Jackson County property tax rate would remain the same at $2.01 per $1,000 of assessed value. This equates to $402 for the owner of a home valued at $200,000. Estimated values ​​average 64% of actual market values ​​in Jackson County.

April Sevcik, a citizen member of the Jackson County Budget Committee, praised county staff for their hard work on the budget and their efforts to help the community.

Jackson County has been at the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery efforts after the 2020 Almeda and South Obenchain fires destroyed or damaged 2,600 homes and 200 businesses.

“With what they’ve been through, I just want to thank them, and we should honor them,” Sevcik said of county staff.

The Department of Developmental Services has set up a Wildfire Resource Permit Center in Medford to help speed up reconstruction after the fires. The department will operate the center, while continuing to manage regular construction requests.

The department’s planning staff handled 1,195 projects in one year, which equates to 300 projects per planner, said director of development services Ted Zuk.

Pressure on the department’s code enforcement personnel has skyrocketed with the proliferation of hemp and marijuana grow operations and processing operations in Rogue Valley.

In 2015, the code’s application handled 605 cases, none of which were cannabis-related. In 2021, they had 1,878 cases and 1,094 involved complaints about cannabis operations, Zuk said.

Jackson County Health and Human Services has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department issued 34,733 vaccinations, including 32,679 for COVID-19. Of 22,650 communicable disease investigations, about 21,000 were for COVID-19, said Director of Health and Human Services Stacy Brubaker.

For Jackson County government as a whole, the county plans to add 47.6 full-time equivalent workers, bringing its workforce to 938.2 full-time equivalent workers.

About half of those new hires are public health, mental health and developmental disabilities workers for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The settlement of a federal lawsuit requires the state and counties to provide more services for people with developmental disabilities, Jordan said.

At the airport, manager Jerry Brienza said passenger numbers continued to rebound after plummeting in 2020 in the first year of the pandemic.

This year, Brienza expects passenger numbers to increase from the record set in 2019, when 1,087,873 passengers departed or arrived on commercial flights.

“We still expect an 11% increase in passenger numbers from 2019. That is, of course, if nothing drastic happens,” he said, noting the possibility of another pandemic surge. or unforeseen developments like an airline cutting routes.

Brienza said the airport is in good financial shape, especially after receiving an injection of COVID-19 assistance from Congress and the FAA.

The Jackson County Expo is also bouncing back and planning a full slate of traditional and new events. During the pandemic, when events like concerts were canceled, the Expo operated with reduced staff but still provided major assistance as a site for COVID-19 vaccinations, distribution of medical supplies, safety and shelter for people who fled the 2020 fires.

The Jackson County Roads and Parks Department has helped coordinate fire cleanup efforts, as well as housing for fire survivors at its southern Oregon RV park and other sites. .

The department will continue to maintain and improve roads, while tackling new projects like a new Howard Prairie Marina and deferred maintenance of the park system, said Steve Lambert, department manager.

The department paid off its construction loan for the Southern Oregon RV Park and took over management of the Joseph Stewart Park, which was previously run by the state. Revenue from the RV park and the former state park will help stabilize park system finances, Lambert said.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said his department will continue to tackle crime issues, including the illegal cultivation of marijuana.

Increased funding, strong partnerships with other agencies, and changes to state law will help law enforcement fight illegal marijuana, he said.

“Hopefully this year will be better than last year,” Sickler said.

In December 2021, the Oregon Legislature allocated $25 million to bolster enforcement efforts against illegal marijuana operations in 2022 and to combat water theft for cultivation. The Legislature also authorizes a moratorium on new hemp licenses in Jackson County and any other county that asks the state to stop issuing new licenses.

Many growers grow marijuana under the guise of hemp, which doesn’t get users high and is legal nationwide. Marijuana is legal in Oregon but illegal federally.

In 2021, law enforcement in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Douglas counties shut down illegal operations with an estimated $2.78 billion worth of black market marijuana, according to a multi-county analysis of the Mail Tribune.

Although the scale of the busts and the size of the marijuana operations were unprecedented, police believe they have found only a fraction of the illegal cultivation, processing, storage and shipping sites in southern ‘Oregon. Organized crime rings traffic Oregon-grown marijuana to states where it remains illegal — and fetch higher prices.

The $2.78 billion in illegal marijuana found in southern Oregon dwarfs the nearly $1.2 billion in legal marijuana sold in stores statewide in 2021.

At the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Beth Heckert said prosecutors are processing a backlog of cases related to COVID-19-related security restrictions on the courts.

Homicide cases that once took between a year and a year and a half to solve now take two or three years. Jackson County Jail is holding 24 people who are being charged with murder, Heckert said.

The DA’s office handles challenges to past convictions after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that defendants in criminal trials cannot be convicted by non-unanimous juries. Only Oregon and Louisiana had allowed such convictions.

The prosecutor’s office received 415 challenges to previous convictions in 2021 and already received 718 challenges in the first quarter of this year. Two attorneys in the office are tasked with reviewing these cases, Heckert said.

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