Lane County’s Board of Commissioners’ already conservative majority will be strengthened by one more when Pat Farr takes Commissioner Rob Handy’s seat in January, but Farr and the commission might not be feeling so lucky to be in control as they deal with not only massive budget problems, but also internal strife.
The Secure Rural Schools act, which has helped to fund counties such as Lane with large amounts of nontaxable federal lands, has yet to be renewed and other state and federal funds are shrinking, so Lane County is facing a budget cut of more than $100 million. The budget committee voted May 22 to approve a budget and send it to the board. Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy voted against the budget, after the committee shifted money prevent some of the deep public safety cuts, but still cut funding to programs including youth and veterans services.
In his public comments to the budget committee, union representative Jim Steiner questioned why the county’s indirect costs are going up, asking why administrative overhead has been increased by more than $1 million this year.
County Administrator Liane Richardson orchestrated many of the cost-saving measures, some of them unpopular with county employees and county residents alike, such as turning the Lane County Animal Services kennel over to a nonprofit like Greenhill Humane Society, cutting and merging other departments and laying off more than 200 employees.
Cutting the number of inmates the Lane County jail can house and cutting county sheriffs patrols are also unpopular proposals, but because the jail and public safety are mainly funded through the “general fund,” which faces the biggest cut, they are also difficult cuts to avoid.
The county commissioners have discussed looking into placing a tax levy on the November ballot to blunt some of the budget cuts. When Lane County commissioners proposed an income tax in 2007, it led to an attempted recall of then-commissioner Bobby Green, who was later defeated by Handy. Current Commissioner Faye Stewart also voted for that proposed income tax.
EW obtained an email Richardson sent out to county employees on May 11, in which she writes “if you email or call me or stop me in the hall and tell me that I’m doing a lousy job, shouldn’t have been hired, made a bad mistake, or are going in the wrong direction on something” then she would stop and listen to the complaints though “it will hurt.”