LANE COUNTY, Ore. (KMTR) -- As Lane County's Budget Committee passed a revised version of the originally proposed budget, county leaders sounded off about the impact the cuts will have on public safety. Several Lane County officials addressed the press Wednesday afternoon, May 23, 2012, to answer questions about the budget and several changes made by the Budget Committee to save some public safety services.
“We've only changed the [magnitude of the] earthquake from a 9.0 down to maybe an 8.5. It's still a major earthquake to our public safety system with this new budget,” said Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich, in response to the nearly finalized budget.
Some of the changes include:
Keeping sixteen LCSO patrol deputies instead of the originally proposed six
Eliminating 96 jail beds instead of the originally proposed 131
Keeping the Medical Examiner's Office
Keeping another two prosecutors in the District Attorney's Office
Lane County's Budget Committee is made up of four citizen members in addition to the the Board of County Commissioners. Over the last two months, the group has revised the original FY 2012 - 13 budget as proposed by the Lane County Administrator's Office.
Committee members passed the budget Tuesday evening, May 22, 2012 after making several changes. Commissioner Bozievich stated the changes did not come from any last minute “found money”.
“I want to be clear: we did not just find money somewhere,” said Bozievich. “Something else took a hit to save other critical programs.”
Some of the changes will help relieve pressure on the Lane County Sheriff's Office. The county will now use 1.9 million dollars of one-time use road funds to pay for patrol services. Originally, LCSO patrol was to be cut down to just six total deputies on staff. The funding move will now keep sixteen deputies on patrol through July 1, 2013. The money came from timber payments that the county put in reserve over the last several years. All of that money is now gone.
A delay in payments that the county owes to Lane County Circuit Court is also helping the Lane County jail over the next year. The original budget proposal would have forced the jail to lose 131 beds for local offenders. The funding switch will save 35 for a total capacity of 155 beds. The county said it likely will not be able to delay Circuit Court payments again next year.
Even with these changes, county leaders say the cuts are brutal.
“I'm afraid terrible things are going to happen,” said Sheriff Tom Turner of the Lane County Sheriff's Office.
Currently, the Sheriff's Office has 22 deputies in patrol. Come June 30th, only sixteen deputies will be left on patrol with just 16-hour patrols, down from the current 20-hour patrols.
“This is better than six, but it's still terrible,” said Sheriff Turner.
As of June 30, 2012, the Jail will only be able to accommodate 155 detainees. The Sheriff's Office says with a county population of around 350,000, the jail should have a capacity of around one thousand beds.
“This is the lowest number we've had to work with, so we're not quite sure how all of that is going to function yet,” said Turner. “If we just wanted to get to the Oregon average, we would have to hire 215 deputies . . . that's how far down we are compared to any other Oregon county.”
Another salvaged service is the Lane County Medical Examiner's Office. It will now stay open with two full-time employees, rather than closing altogether as originally proposed. The County Medical Examiner is in charge of signing for between one thousand and eleven hundred deaths in Lane County each year. Without the service, in most cases, bodies cannot be moved and related legal matters cannot proceed.
“Estates aren't processed, insurance isn't processed, bodies can't be moved to the mortuary, for example, so it's huge, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the funeral home directors and the firefighters who came out and underscored the importance of the medical examiner's and rural law enforcement prevalence,” said Alex Gardner, Lane County's District Attorney.
To fund the Medical Examiner, Lane County pulled money from its Park Services division. One example of the impact resulting from this action is a delay in or lack of clean-up of illegal dump sites in the county.
Addressing the public's concern that the county may be crying wolf, county officials reported virtually every department and every employee made a cut, including those in many unions.
Deputies in the Lane County Peace Officers Association came to an agreement Tuesday night to take benefit cuts which helped save beds in the Lane County jail. “It was those funds that helped us bring back the 35 jail beds, them stepping forward and sacrificing their benefits,” said Bozievich.
In years past, several other county employee unions have taken benefits including road crews and those in the DA's office, among others.
“Overall, Lane County employees, particularly the police and the DAs, they're paid below market in total compensation,” said Gardner. “This is a very efficient team here in Lane County and the people are committed to the work.”
Even though Lane County citizens have turned down fourteen different measures in the last few years that would have helped fund public safety, county leaders stressed finding a sustainable revenue source is a conversation that needs to continue.
"Help us solve the problem because this is extraordinary because when the Sheriff's Office gets to the point where you have to add 215 to get up to average, that's not crying wolf, right - that's a huge problem that's demonstrable and we experience it every day," said Gardner.
Lane County Commissioners get the budget on June 20th and will likely vote to adopt it.