County budget committee hears from department heads, staff

Kathe Petterson, right, a senior dispatcher, deputy and field training officer for Malheur County, trains Cindy Bowers in June of 2015. Sheriff Brian Wolfe told the Malheur County Budget Committee during its first day of deliberations on Tuesday that getting full staffing at the dispatch center, which serves 18 agencies around the county, has been problematic.

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The Malheur County Budget Committee met virtually on Tuesday to begin two days of deliberations over the proposed 2021-22 fiscal year budget to carry the county through financially in 2022.

As proposed, the budget shows a increase of about $2 million in revenue over the current fiscal year.

The session was held by video, with each department head, and sometimes staff, visiting with the budget committee to explain their requests. For the departments, there was little change in their requests and what was budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Leading off was Sarah Poe, Health Department director, who said the services provided by the department are covered by support from the state including grants, fees to clients and contracted services.

“We did not pull out of county General Fund,” she said. “We serve a ton of people.”

Poe said the department provides 17 programs and has been busy during the COVID-19 pandemic, including conducting 29 vaccination clinics, on top of 27 testing clinics.

A major part of the county budget is the sheriff’s budget is covering a department facing a lot challenges. The budget proposes three vehicles and equipment, instead of the four requested, and Sheriff Brian Wolfe said he understands the change. His request also included Tasers, car cameras and body cameras, noting that was part of the culture now.

Wolfe said he is working to get the county dispatch center, which serves 18 agencies around the county, fully staffed. However, said that it is difficult to get people to apply and then get them through the hiring process. The budget also renews the $6,000 paid for book mobile services from the library district. The book mobile takes books to people in rural areas of the county, outside the library district, such as Jordan Valley, Willow Creek and Annex. Librarian Darlyne Johnson said she will mark 50 years with the library in 2021.

Susan Gregory, Juvenile Department director, said some of the revenue she receives on cases may be down if Senate Bill 817 is approved in the Legislature, under which juvenile offenders would not have to pay supervision and detention fees. She is not sure how it would affect her department, she said, adding that youth would still have to pay restitution.

The committee is set to conclude its work this afternoon.

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