Curry County declares crisis

May 23, 2007 11:00 pm

By Valliant Corley

WesCom News Service

GOLD BEACH, Ore. – Faced with a 68 percent cut in its general fund and fearing for the public's safety, the Curry County Board of Commissioners declared a local emergency and asked Gov. Ted Kulongoski to declare a state emergency and consider Curry County an "emergency area."

And when the governor received the message shortly after Monday's declaration, the director of Office of Emergency Management responded, wanting specifics

A Curry County commissioner replied, "If we have a disaster, something we can't control, we want the National Guard."

The five counties that are most hurt by the loss of federal timber funds had agreed to declare county emergencies this week and ask the governor for help. Curry County was the first to act. Following were Josephine, Coos, Douglas and Lane counties.

"The five hardest hit counties of necessity are cutting back on public safety," Commissioner Marilyn Schafer said as the commission discussed the declaration. "One of the things we've realized is that if we had a disaster, we would probably have to call out the National Guard.

"As counties, we're saying ‘Better tell the president.'"

The county is now rushing through a new budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, slashing an already bare-bones budget that had been prepared earlier.

The emergency declaration states that the severity and magnitude of the losses of revenues has created an emergency that is beyond the response of state and city police.

"It's a gap in our counties, a security gap," Commissioner Lucie La Bonti said.

Added Commissioner Georgia Nowlin said, "We don't have people patrolling on July 1."

Sheriff Mark Metcalf remained more cautious.

"We're assuming a lot of things," Metcalf said. "It's more a collaboration between counties to put the state and federal government on notice. This minute, the county has law enforcement in place and can handle all but a severe emergency."

Metcalf said he had spoken to the superintendent of state police that morning.

"He told me there is no plan presently to increase state police in our county," Metcalf said. "There's a plan to hire more troopers in the future, but no plan to send any to Curry County."

Three state troopers are now assigned to Curry County.

"It will be his intent to help the sheriff in public safety," Metcalf said. "He will do all he can with the resources he has. The truth is, the resources are very limited."

Curry County will need some financial help, La Bonti said.

"The state or federal government needs to come through," she said.

Metcalf said the layoffs in his department would take at least $1.5 million to reverse.

"The problem with emergency money is, the state tends to look at it as a loan and they need to pay back," Brace said.

The layoffs need to be started soon because his deputies are in the Teamsters Union with a contract that calls for a complicated bumping system, Metcalf said. The contract has a 15-year clause that allows any sheriff's employee with 15 years seniority to bump in any section of the department, whether they are trained in that section or not.

"I have 10 employees in the union with 15 years or more," Metcalf said. "Not all would be laid off. But I have five in the criminal division. The five in the criminal division apt to be laid off have bumping rights."