Raises, more sheriff jobs OK'd

The Jackson County Budget Committee has approved a $339.2 million county budget that includes raises for elected officials, additions to law enforcement and cuts to mental health care.

County property taxes, which bring in about $37 million, will remain unchanged at $2.01 per $1,000 of assessed value — or $402 for a home assessed at $200,000.

Elected officials will receive an almost 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise. Like other county employees, they also will take their annual 5 percent step up on a salary ladder for each position.

Elected officials who are already at the maximum level of step six — County Clerk Chris Walker and Justice of the Peace Joe Charter — will not receive the step increases.

Jackson County Commissioners Colleen Roberts and Bob Strosser are continuing to take reduced salaries of $68,432 each.

With a step increase and cost-of-living raise, Roberts' current authorized salary of $100,318 will rise to $106,891 beginning in January 2018. The authorized salary for Strosser, who recently took office, will rise from $91,000 to $96,970.

Roberts said many small business owners, workers, retired people and the unemployed are going without raises or cost-of-living adjustments. She said elected officials earn twice the pay of typical workers.

"These are the people who pay elected people's wages," she said.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said he will continue taking his full salary of $100,318, which will rise to $106,891 in January 2018.

Dyer said elected representatives have to forego their careers while they serve but still need to support their families.

With the cost-of-living and step raises, the surveyor will receive $94,578, the assessor will receive $96,970 and the sheriff will receive $113,443 in January 2018.

Under county rules, newly elected officials start at step one of the salary ladder for their position.

The Budget Committee added a new rule that if a county employee runs for office and wins, that person would not have to take a pay cut if the elected office pays less. The person would start at the step level that prevents a pay cut.

The committee also made a new rule that if an elected official leaves office and then runs again in the future, the person could resume office at the step in pay where he or she left off — rather than having to start at the first step on the salary ladder.

On the mental health front, the budget for the coming fiscal year eliminates the equivalent of 249 full-time health and human services positions after the county lost contracts to provide mental health care to Oregon Health Plan patients. About 65 of those positions were vacant, largely due to a nationwide shortage in mental health workers.

The county has received resignation notices from 127 workers and will send out layoff notices to remaining workers affected by the cuts at the end of this month. The jobs of the laid-off workers will be eliminated at the end of June, said Jackson County Health and Human Services Director Mark Orndoff.

"In terms of the human impact to our staff, it's been devastating," he said.

Jackson Care Connect and AllCare Health — coordinated care organizations that manage the physical, mental and dental health care of OHP clients — are transitioning to other mental health care providers in the community. They said the county wasn't providing enough mental health care fast enough, and they want to offer care in a variety of other settings, including doctors' offices.

One in three Jackson County residents is now on OHP because of expanded health insurance coverage provided by the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Obamacare funding from the federal and state governments fueled the county's expansion of mental health care for OHP clients.

With Obamacare paying for a variety of mental health and addiction services, the Budget Committee decided to pull $121,795 in county funding from OnTrack and Addictions Recovery Center treatment programs, Rogue Community Health and mental health care for Kids Unlimited youth.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said those services are the responsibility of the coordinated care organizations AllCare and Jackson Care Connect. The county would be financially benefiting those CCOs if it continued the funding, he said.

The county will redirect the $121,795, making a part-time worker at its veterans affairs office full-time, and putting the remaining money toward animal services like the county animal shelter.

Law enforcement agencies are among the winners with the new budget. The Jackson County Sheriff's Office will add two employees, the District Attorney's Office will add a half-time position and the Community Justice Department — which includes parole, probation, juvenile and prison transition services — will add the equivalent of 1.5 full-time positions.

The $339.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year is almost unchanged from the current budget of nearly $339.4 million. Although the county has slashed mental health spending, it is adding some employees elsewhere, tackling infrastructure projects and building up its reserves. The growing reserve funds inflate the budget.

Jordan said the county is coping well, for now, with Public Employee Retirement System costs, but costs for retirees will make up an increasing share of payroll costs over time.

Although the state has reformed PERS for current workers, older retirees were promised hefty retirement benefits even when investments fail to deliver on aggressive growth targets. State efforts to cut back on those promises have largely been shot down in court.

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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