Umatilla County's budget proposal will add two sheriff's deputies and one corrections officer, Commissioner George Murdock said Wednesday. He called the boosts to public safety probably the most significant ramifications in the 2014-15 budget proposal.
Murdock, the board of commissioners budget liaison, said county commissioners have made a commitment to public safety despite two public safety levies failing in November last year. Adding two deputies would increase the criminal/patrol division in the sheriff's office to 10. And the proposed budget also adds one new staff member to expand the capacity of the jail.
County jails throughout Oregon also could see savings from Oregon House Bill 4110, which would prohibit private insurers from dropping coverage for jail inmates while they await the outcome of their cases. Gov. John Kitzhaber has yet to sign the bill, but decreases in inmate medical costs could translate into more staff and keeping more people behind bars.
Commissioners also want to provide some sort of accommodations for deputies to operate out of Milton-Freewater, Murdock said. The Umatilla County Justice Center in Pendleton houses the sheriff's office headquarters and nerve center, and the Stafford Hansell Government Center provides a base in Hermiston. It's time for a Milton-Freewater site, he said, and there are funds for that.
And while county coffers are not overflowing with money, Murdock said, there are no plans to cut services or employees.
The ongoing operating budget is almost $54.5 million and ends June 30. Murdock, in a draft of this year's budget message, said the county assessor's department predicts property tax collections will increase by 2.68 percent this year, and the end of the urban renewal program in Milton-Freewater will bring another bump in revenue.
Yet at the state and federal level, he said, "revenues continue to decline or remain at stagnant levels although mandates and expectations for county government continue to increase with each legislative or congressional session."
County budget officer Bob Heffner is in the final weeks of preparing the 2014-15 budget proposal. The county budget committee -- which consists of the three county commissioners and three members of the public -- will go through the proposal April 23-25 at the Umatilla County Courthouse, 216 S.E. Fourth St., Pendleton. Those meetings are public.
Heffner said he plans to have budget information in the hands of committee members April 16, so they have a few days to prepare before the meetings begin.
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.