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The Golden Egg is gone, thanks to the 1,000 pound Gorilla

<<< Curry County’s payroll, benefits must be restructured >>>

By Thomas Huxley…

 Published in The Bend, Oregon Bulletin: In My View:  March 15, 2012

 (Published again in the Curry Costal Pilot:  March 17, 2012)

This letter is regarding the Feb. 22 guest editorial by The Bulletin, published in the Curry Coastal Pilot, titled “Curry must help itself with higher taxes.”  

The Bulletin was quite opinionated for a newspaper around 300 miles from Harbor, in Curry County, where I live. The editorial mentioned 19 recommendations from the Curry County Citizens’ Committee that included a sales tax.  

The Bulletin went on to say the county’s financial troubles are aggravated by forces beyond its control and in the closing paragraph says, “But, the county’s taxpayers need to step up to the plate as well, either with the new sales tax or by raising property taxes to a more reasonable level, or both.” 

The journalists’ code of ethics once encouraged “seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.” 

The remainder of this letter is from the perspective of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee member. 

Approximately three weeks after the committee first met on Nov. 30, 2011, and after review of information provided by the county, 18 written questions were submitted to county personnel along with an explanation and reason for each question. Fourteen questions were for county counsel and the finance director.  

County commissioners were asked if they would support hiring a county administrator and reducing their positions to part time if recommended by the Citizens’ Committee. 

The sheriff was asked for a breakdown of a 40 percent benefit figure used in his presentation to committee members Nov. 30.

 Not one question was answered.  Note: The sheriff forwarded his question to finance and couldn’t get a response.

 The most honest point discussed (finally) was during the third of four committee meetings Jan. 12, when an “adviser” was asked what was so magical about the Feb. 1 deadline.

 The reply: “I think one of the reasons for that time frame was that if there is something to be put on a ballot, that has to be done in March. That’s something the commissioners have said.”  The time for final committee recommendations was then changed to Jan. 13.  No serious discussions ensued regarding county benefit reductions.

 The most shocking point for me was determining, from the county master payroll, that the 40 percent benefit figure used in the presentation by the sheriff was actually 65 percent (average).  A worksheet was provided and reviewed with the sheriff on Jan. 13.

 The following employer-paid benefits are from the Curry County Master Payroll Fiscal Year 2011/2012 — August 2011.  (Totals are rounded off. This includes all county employees.)

 • Gross pay: $597,000 per month, $7,164,000 per year

 • Health insurance: $151,000 per month, $1,812,000 per year (25 percent of gross wages)

 • PERS-County: $77,000 per month, $924,000 per year (13 percent of gross wages)

 • PERS-Employee: $35,000 per month, $420,000 per year (6 percent of gross wages)

 • Social Security-FICA: $46,000 per month, $552,000 per year (8 percent of gross wages)

 • Vacation, holiday and sick leave: 8 percent of gross wages

 • Total average benefits percent: 60 percent of gross wages

 • Expect a 5 percent (approximate) PERS increase July 1, 2013.

 Does The Bulletin know of any business in the private sector in Curry County that provides similar benefits?

 Solution No. 1: The geese that for all these years laid the golden eggs have died and gone to heaven, never to return. Over the next several months, collective bargaining needs to be removed from the equation. Pending available funds, current employees may be offered jobs under a nonunion structure. Health insurance premiums paid by the employer must not exceed a generous $500 per month versus the current $1,000-plus per employee. PERS would not apply. An affordable, competitive and much less costly retirement alternative should be evaluated. 

Solution No. 2: Allow Curry County to do what the private sector has done under similar circumstances for the past century. Collapse, restructure and emerge a stronger, leaner entity with competent leadership and without the 1,000-pound gorilla (PERS) on its back.

 — Thomas Huxley lives in Harbor, Oregon.

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