By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Board splits on YCOM budget

In the end, it won approval on a 3-2 vote, with County Commissioner Mary Stern and Sheriff Jack Crabtree both sounding strong dissents.

Last month, YCOM’s budget committee voted 7-1 to hold this year’s dues increase to member police and fire agencies to 3 percent.

Crabtree cast the dissenting vote, saying that would leave the agency short of what it needs to provide basic dispatching and emergency radio communications services. Stern was traveling on county business, preventing her from attending.

County Administrator Laura Tschabold recommended a 6 percent increase, with backing from both Stern and Crabtree. But the county’s rural partners balked, and their view prevailed in the subsequent board showdown.

“I won’t say I necessarily endorse this budget,” Tschabold said in her remarks to the board. “I did recommend a 6 percent increase in the dues, but,  obviously, it’s a decision for this executive board. I’ll leave it to you.”

Stern framed her opposition this way:

“I don’t think 3 percent is enough. I don’t think it’s adequate. I think we’re shorting ourselves as we move forward, that we’re going down a dangerous road.

“I realize it has an impact on small agencies, and that is difficult. But it has an even larger impact on the big entities, yet we’re willing to make that sacrifice and figure out a way to find those dollars, because we know what the importance of this is.”

However, Police Chief Ron Noble, representing YCOM’s other big player, the city of McMinnville, cast his lot with the small-town police and fire representatives.

“The city is concerned with the long-term funding issues surrounding YCOM,” Noble said afterward, in explaining his vote. “Our current path is not sustainable.

“The city already pays as much or more for dispatch services than comparable sized cities in the region. It doesn’t make sense for the city to just throw more money at YCOM.”

He said, “Before we can commit, or even ask for, additional taxpayer dollars, we owe it to our citizens to ensure YCOM is run efficiently and meets nationally accepted standards for public safety dispatch.”

Rick Mishler of West Valley Fire said he would have been willing to support an increase of up to 4.5 percent, given sufficient justification. He said he wasn’t alone in feeling as though he had not gotten all of the information he needed in order to fully analyze the budget. He said a lot of members felt the county’s budget presentation wasn’t adequate.

County officials, who provide staff support for the agency, responded by saying that while they had only built one proposed budget, they had provided material mirroring the spreadsheets handed out in the past.

“What lead me to the 3 percent increase in the long run was the fact that everyone knows we’re in a spot and everyone knows everything is going to change drastically,” Mishler said.

“If we can hold one more year the way we are going now, we can put together the plan that has been laid out for us now by AdComm. We’re going to have drastic changes in the next few months, and the bottom line is that most of the people I talked to didn’t think 3 percent vs. 6 percent was going to make a bit of difference this year.”

He accused Stern of sitting on an action plan developed earlier by County Information Systems Director Murray Paolo. He said, “It would have stopped a lot of this and we wouldn’t have been worried about a 3 percent near as much as we are now,” he maintained.

Stern said the plan had, in fact, been presented to YCOM Director Janis Cameron.

“I’m not trying to lay any blame here,” she said. “I’m just stating the facts. This is not enough money, period.”

“We spent a lot of money we didn’t have to spend if things would’ve been different, so we can look at it two ways,” Mishler responded.

“And the county spent a lot of money,” Stern shot back. “The county spent a lot of extra money on this system. So don’t start pointing fingers at the county and at me when we go down that road.

“There was a lot of money, there were a lot of mistakes, and it’s all a lot of water under the bridge now. We are where we are right now, and we need to look realistically at where we want to get to in the future. A 3 percent increase at this time is not realistic.” 

Crabtree underscored Stern’s comments.

“I would urge us not to make any decisions based on what’s happened in the past,” he said. “We need to be thinking about what’s going to be required to adequately fund the absolute most vital service to public safety.”

He noted Tschabold’s analysis indicated it would actually take a 15 percent increase to maintain services at the current level. He said no one’s fiscal reality allowed for that increase, so he made a push for a compromise between “what is insufficient and what is really needed,” settling on 6 percent.

“I was confident that this board would let go of past history and try to figure out what we really need to  move forward,” the sheriff said. “Regardless of the presentation, we know what the needs of YCOM are. I would urge us to let bygones be bygones and make a decision based on what’s best for YCOM.”

McMinnville City Councilor Paul May was unpersuaded.

“If we’re really in this bad of shape, why didn’t we know about it earlier?” he asked. “Why isn’t the auditor giving us indication of that?

“Let’s plan earlier for next budget year. That’s all I’m saying.”

While the board split on the budget, due to disagreement over the dues increase, it expressed its unanimous intent to continue working with the YCOM Advisory Group on laying out a plans for the future with respect to both ongoing operations and capital needs.

“Our goal now is to work out a plan so we know where we are and where we’re going,” Mishler said. “We need a plan that’s going to roll for three to five years.

“We can’t do it a year at a time. We can’t. It’s going to eat us up.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with that,” Crabtree said. “The issue right now is until we get there, we don’t want to keep rolling backward.”

The advisory group is next slated to meet at 10 a.m. Friday, July 12, in Building 2, Room 101A on Chemeketa Community College’s McMinnville campus. YCOM will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday, July 18, in Room 32 of the county courthouse.


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