The Umatilla County Commissioners outlined how they would make up for a nearly $1.1 million shortfall in next year's budget, with the biggest cut hitting the health and human services department.

The commissioners have decided to close the Milton-Freewater Health Clinic, lay off two public health nurses, cut a vacant public health nurse position and close the juvenile detention center.

The commissioners have asked health and human services to cut $560,000 from it's proposed budget - $230,000 from public health and $330,000 from the juvenile services.

The commissioners also called for $20,000 cuts in four other departments, cutting $100,000 from their department and offering retirement incentives to up to 10 county employees.

Commissioner Dennis Doherty, who told department heads about the cuts Friday morning, said it's all an effort to balance the budget.

"We could bat this around for days, probably weeks, and argue over every line item in terms of the same considerations," he said. "But this is not a time where that is practical or probably even helpful because we just need to get it in balance."

The cuts aim to even out the $1,098,879 difference between revenue and expenditures outlined in the 2009-2010 budget. County Budget Officer Bob Heffner said next year's budget is looking to be in the $67 million range, a $6 million increase from last year's $61 million budget.

"The budget cut we're talking about is cutting back from what you've proposed, not cutting back from last year's overall budget," Doherty told department heads Friday. "This ride isn't over yet."

Heffner said most of next year's increase is due to Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program funds from the federal government. Those funds will not be available in 2010, meaning the 2010-2011 fiscal budget will likely be even tougher than the one the county is facing in the coming year.

The county will also be dipping into its contingency fund and going a bit below its standard 8 percent minimum.

Jason Weyand, legal council for the local AFSCME office which represents employees in the courthouse, district attorney's office and road department, said he felt disappointment and a little bit surprised on finding out about the budget cuts.

"I knew they were contemplating some cuts," he said, "but I thought they'd moved beyond the closure of the Milton-Freewater health clinic and I'd been assured closure of the juvenile detention center was a budgetary exercise and was not moving forward. It's clear that was something that was being contemplated for some time."

Public Health:

Despite the effort last year to save the Milton-Freewater Health Clinic and bi-monthly updates from Public Health Director Genni Lehnert, the commissioners chose to close the clinic as of July 1. The clinic is open two days a week and employs a nurse working both at the Milton-Freewater clinic and other health clinics and a half-time office aid.

Since the big discussions over last year's budget, Doherty said he was looking to see Milton-Freewater prove it needed the clinic.

"Community, you've got to step up and show use of the facility," he said. "That hasn't happened."

A report Lehnert gave to commissioners at the beginning on February showed a decrease in usage from the previous year. In the first six months of each fiscal year, there was a decline of 109 clients. Lehnert also mentioned a nurse sees about 10 to 12 clients in the Milton-Freewater clinic compared to 40 in Hermiston.

Of the three nurse positions being cut, one is already vacant. The other two will be actual lay-offs within the department at the other two health clinics in Pendleton and Hermiston, Givens said.

Juvenile Services:

The cuts to juvenile services includes closing the detention center. It also includes transferring $400,000 into the juvenile services budget to help staff find other ways to serve the juvenile offenders once the center is no longer open.

The center houses 24 beds but can only keep juveniles in 17 of those beds on its current budget, said Director Chuck Belford. Givens said the center has been serving an average of six to eight juveniles at a time. The juvenile detention center includes 11 full-time equivalent positions, said Heffner. It serves Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Baker and Malheur Counties along with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Doherty said the center, built in the 1960s, was meant to be a regional facility, but it hasn't worked out that way.

"If the region really wants Umatilla County to continue to sponsor a regional facility, they can step up, as was the plan when the thing was built, and help us make it work," he said.

After the center closes, Community Corrections Director Mark Royal said the juvenile department would work out some sort of holding facility for the juveniles before transferring them elsewhere, possibly the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities, known as NORCOR. But Doherty said that was still being worked out and the $400,000 is supposed to fund that effort.

"I don't want my people tied up with juvenile offenders, that has to transport 'em somewhere other than here or babysitter 'em because there's no place for 'em," said Sheriff John Trumbo.

District Attorney Dean Gushwa spoke against closing the center.

"I philosophically disagree with that position," he said. "... I also recognize commissioners had to step up and make the cuts."

Retirement offers:

To make up the difference between the itemized $740,000 in cuts the commissioners announced Friday and the nearly $1.1 million in cuts needed, they are also offering retirement packages to employees who have worked for the county for 10 years and are 58 years old or older. The offer includes a $5,000 cash payment and up to $8,000 toward insurance coverage until the employee reaches Medicare eligibility. This offer is not being made to sheriff's office employees, district attorney employees or road department employees.

Other departments:

The commissioners chose to eliminate the human resources position left open when Jim Barrow retired as human resources director. His responsibilities will be taken over by Health and Human Services Director Connie Caplinger.

The commissioner's department will cut a total of $100,000.

The sheriff's office and the district attorney's office will have to cut their budgets by $20,000 each.


When asked if the unions would consider making concessions, Weyand said he would need to be convinced the need was there and there wasn't another way the commissioners could make the cuts elsewhere.

"We always look at it as a last-case scenario," Weyand said. "Taking a pay cut is dramatic. They barely get by as it is."

Weyand said he would want to know if the commissioners or administrators are taking a pay cut before union employees do, for instance.

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