Citizen chastises commissioners for litigation

The Board of Josephine County Commissioners approved the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2023-2024 at their Jan. 24 weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
As Resolution 2024-005 spells out, the purpose of a supplemental budget is to “recognize both additional revenues and expenditures” that were not accounted for as of the original budget’s approval, which took place May 31, 2023.
JoCo Finance Director Sandy Novak said the Budget Committee “did a thorough review” of the supplemental Jan. 17. She said the only question that came up was why the full cost of a flail head mower for Public Works was not included in the supplemental. The portion of the mower funded through a grant – $210,000 – was allocated prior to the budget finalization while the portion paid for by Public Works – $30,000 – was not, which is why the former was not included in the supplemental while the latter was.
Public Works Director Rob Brandes explained, “We have two (reserve funds). We have a road and bridge reserve which would pay for a new bridge, for instance. The equipment reserve is going to be paying for our rolling stock which is where this came out of.”
Other adjustments included in the FY 2023-24 supplemental included:
-Over $500K allotted to the Payroll Liability Reserve Fund, including a $419,200 loan from the General Fund to pick up slack from a smaller than expected Oregon Paid Leave intake.
-$694,400 payroll liability expenditures.
-Equipment Reserve Fund increased by over $800K, which will be used to purchase “law enforcement equipment, security equipment for juvenile detention and a skid steer for Recreation.
-Sheriff Forfeiture Fund increased by nearly $150K.
-Animal Shelter received $35K in new donations and a full-time employee was added.
-$7,700 transfer to Airports Capital Fund for purchase of UTV.
-Fairgrounds received an $85,000 state grant.
The discussion surrounding the supplemental budget was not lengthy, as the commissioners had been briefed on it during previous sessions.
Two subsequent agenda items were tabled. First, approval of a collective bargaining agreement with Laborers’ International Union of North America was postponed because Chair John West wanted to have a conversation regarding it that could only be legally held during executive session. Immediately afterward, Novak informed the board that approval of publishing the annual financial report was mistakenly placed on the meeting’s agenda, and instead should be addressed during the following day’s admin meeting.
With that, requests and comments from citizens kicked off with county resident Patty Toronto reading from a Daily Courier editorial blasting the board’s decision to allow a family residing within the Josephine Community Library District from paying associated taxes, an endeavor that was prevented from being repeated by the JoCo Circuit Court as litigation brought by the library plays out.
“Let’s state the obvious here,” Toronto recited. “Why wasn’t the ‘difficult to understand’ statutory language sorted out before Baertschiger and West approved Pelfrey’s petition? Baertshiger was supposedly, ‘oh so worried’ about legal issues that he led the charge to give away Sportsman Park to a local gun club. Yet now every county taxpayer, whether they live in the library district or not, is paying for the county’s assistant legal counsel to make court filings in response to the library district legal challenge.
“There are more than 2.2 million Oregonians who live in library districts and all of a sudden Baertschiger and West believe they found a law that allows people to reject voter-approved taxes?”
The editorial Toronto cited also took aim at county legal counsel Wally Hicks, accusing him of being derelict in his duty for letting the tax opt-out go through: “That legal counsel, Wally Hicks, is an elected official. If he is responsible for bungling this so badly, voters need to know about it.”
The commissioners defended their handling of the library district opt-out matter, with Commissioner Herman Baertschiger reminding the audience that the board voluntarily put a moratorium on annexations into or withdrawals from the district before the court stepped in. He added that he feels the district “jumped the gun” with their lawsuit.