Marion County residents will continue to see wildfire relief this upcoming year. But funding for such efforts is being rolled back, and local service providers may receive fewer grant funds as county officials have less federal money to spend.
The $688.9 million budget approved Tuesday by the Marion County Budget Committee calls for cutbacks nearing $27 million in the 2023-24 year. The budget now awaits final adoption by the Board of Commissioners before June 30.
The committee approved cost-of-living adjustments that will raise pay by 5% for elected officials and most union-represented county employees.
The new budget total would be a 3.7% decrease in spending compared to last year’s budget.
One reason for the decline is that the county is spending significantly less federal pandemic relief money this upcoming year and reserving some of the one-time-funds for future years, Chief Financial Officer Jeff White said at the county’s Tuesday budget meeting.
The county also plans to spend less on contracted services this upcoming year at $79.6 million, down from $93.4 million in the 2022-23 year. Such contracts cover a wide range of services including youth stipends, programming and data, ambulance and laboratory services.
The county also spent about $1.7 million last year on wildfire recovery work in the Santiam Canyon, more than twice what is budgeted for the upcoming year at $747,000.
Last year’s adjusted $715.7 million budget was the largest in the county’s history. “The influx of significant federal one-time funding should be used for one-time projects and should not be relied on for ongoing operational expenditures,” according to the 2023-24 budget message.
Local property tax collection is budgeted at $91.6 million. That’s a 6.9% increase last year, “driven by an influx of new commercial property development as well as higher assessed valuations on existing properties,” according to a budget summary.
About $134 million is budgeted for the general fund, which pays for most routine county services including sheriff’s office operations, justice court, assessment and taxation, county clerk and treasury. That’s a 1.2% increase over last year.
State funding in the proposed budget would increase by $1.6 million to $115 million and includes legislative aid for wildfire recovery in the north Santiam Canyon.
Oregon Housing and Community Services awarded Marion County about $12 million of federal funds for a new wildfire recovery housing program.
Nearly 100 households between Marion and Linn counties remain displaced by the 2020 Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires, according to a county news release. Homeowners in the canyon who are still without permanent housing can apply for grants through the program for repairing, replacing, building or rebuilding a dwelling or structure that was destroyed by wildfire, the budget message said.
Also included in the budget is a total $4 million for 10 continuing projects and $5.9 million for 15 new capital projects. The new construction will include $3.6 million to refurbish the courthouse parking structure and $783,000 for waterline improvements at the Marion County Jail.
The county has budgeted $9.6 million for construction of a new evidence storage building at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office’s Aumsville campus. Another $2.1 million is budgeted for completion of the new Health and Human Services Department building on Northeast Center Street, scheduled to be completed in the 2023-24 year.
Commissioners have approved federal pandemic relief funding for continuing investments including water and sewer systems, park improvements, homeless resource centers and cybersecurity. Those total $26.6 million in the budget.
Another $31 million of federal Covid relief dollars is budgeted in county department budgets, which oversee their own infrastructure projects.
The budget includes cost-of-living adjustments raising pay by 5% for the Marion County Law Enforcement Association, Marion County Employees Association, Federation of Parole and Probation Officers and Marion County Juvenile Employees Association.
The local deputy district attorneys’ union is still in negotiation, according to Chad Ball, operations manager for the board of commissioners.
The budget committee also approved a 5% pay raise for elected officials as recommended by the Marion County Compensation Board, which must under state law review compensation paid to elected officials each year and determine whether adjustments are warranted. The county approved the same increase last year.
Compensation Board Chair Lore Christopher said at the budget meeting that in her 30 years as a human resources professional, she had never previously recommended a cost-of-living adjustment above 3.2%.
Christopher said pay raises for elected officials are warranted because “this inflation situation just is not relenting.”
“Here we are again saying, ‘Don’t get used to it,’” she told the budget committee at the meeting. “We don’t think that this is going to stay. We’re going to hope for brighter days.”
The budget calls for a roughly 8% base salary increase for the office of District Attorney Paige Clarkson.
Christopher said the pay increase was due to Marion County prosecutors’ unique work on cases involving state agencies and prisons in Salem.
BUDGET COMMITTEE MEMBERS:
Chief Administrative Officer Jan Fritz
Marion County Commissioners Danielle Bethell, Kevin Cameron and Colm Willis.
Citizen members Denyc Boles, Dave Kinney and Patrick Vance
Chief Financial Officer Jeff White, Senior Budget Analyst Daniel Adatto and Budget Analyst Zivile Sliosoraite
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that the budget committee approved the budget and referred it to commissioners for adoption at a later date. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
SUBSCRIBE TO GET SALEM NEWS – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!
Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.