All Grant County employees, from elected officials to hourly workers, will receive a 2.55% cost of living increase, according to the fiscal year 2020 budget approved by the Grant County Court on June 12.

The budget will be formally adopted on June 26. Excluding the unappropriated ending fund balance and reserve funds, the budget comes to $31.7 million, up from $25.3 million last year.

That includes $2.7 million for health services, up from $1.5 million last year. Estimated property taxes to be received by the county this year will be $1.6 million, increased from $1.5 million last year.

With 23.94 full-time equivalent employees, general administration costs for the FY 2020 budget come to $5.2 million, up from 21.71 FTE employees and $3.8 million last year. Public safety’s 31.85 FTE employees come to $4.4 million, up from $3.8 million last year.

The county began banking money in a road reserve fund around 2001 using federal Secure Rural Schools money. The hope was to build up a large enough reserve that interest payments would help fund the county road department, but it’s never been enough, Judge Scott Myers told the Eagle.

The county might receive $650,000 from the federal government as payment in lieu of taxes in the coming fiscal year, according to the budget message to the county budget committee.

The sheriff’s office anticipates receiving about $300,000 from the state Department of Corrections for jail bed rentals and $50,000 from Prairie City for patrol services. The office requested $90,000 to lease six new outfitted patrol vehicles, $64,000 for a second civil deputy and $10,000 for new ballistic vests.

The county court renewed a $6,000 contract with the Forest Service to patrol forest roads and campgrounds.

The sheriff’s office will also provide special enforcement during unexpected large group gatherings and fire emergencies.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer agreed with the court that the Forest Service should pay more for the patrol services and noted that the contract at least provides an opportunity for the county to have a police presence on the forest.

USDA Wildlife Services has requested $69,317 from the county for predator control services. Last year, the county put $25,092 into the program.

With the establishment of the Grant County Emergency Communications Agency this year to provide 911 dispatch service, the county’s expected contribution has increased from $79,198 paid in fiscal year 2017 to $117,513 in the coming fiscal year.

The county paid only $10,000 annually in the last two fiscal years because a legislative appropriation supported local dispatch for the past biennium. A bill that passed in the Oregon House would increase the phone tax that supports 911 dispatch centers from 75 cents per month to $1 next year and $1.25 the following year, which could bring down the county’s share of local 911 costs if approved.

The county began contracting with Community Counseling Services in 2013 to provide public health services. Since then, CCS has reported a shortfall each year, and county payments to CCS have ranged from $60,000 to $110,000 each year. CCS is asking for $83,000 for fiscal year 2020, up from $65,000 last year.

A full-time human resources position has been created, and the administrative assistant position is now part-time. The district attorney took over the duties of county counsel, and the county agreed to pay for a deputy district attorney. The road department added an equipment operator for the Long Creek area. The county clerk anticipates replacing a ballot counting machine sometime in the future for about $60,000.

The budget message also cited a concern about shortfalls in the senior citizens budget over the past four fiscal years as a result of shrinking state and federal funding. Last year, the county transferred $54,245 to the senior citizens budget. The projected shortfall for this fiscal year is $48,236.

In other county court news:

• Kim Puckett is the new part-time Grant County administrative assistant. Laurie Wright will be working full time as the new human resources manager.

• Commissioner Sam Palmer said he was at a meeting with Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa and other officials when it was announced that Craig Trulock is the new Malheur National Forest supervisor.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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