ashland.news
July 24, 2024

Administrator: Jackson County for All initiatives would cost county hundreds of thousands

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan reviews budget numbers during a Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting in Medford Thursday. Rogue Valley Times photo by Andy Atkinson
February 16, 2024

Danny Jordan said he wanted to dispel claims he’s heard that expanding to five county commissioners would not lead to added costs; Jackson County For All rep says group has been ‘completely transparent’

By Nick Morgan, Rogue Valley Times

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan told county commissioners at a work session Thursday that expanding the board from three to five members would cost the county well into the six figures.

Describing as examples roughly $30,000 in remodeling costs to expand the auditorium and $400 a year for Microsoft 365 subscriptions, Jordan rattled off a litany of anticipated expenses that would follow if voters pass a trio of ballot initiatives proposed by Jackson County for All, which seeks to expand the board to five seats, cap the salaries and make the positions nonpartisan.

Jordan told commissioners he is seeking to dispel claims he’s heard from proponents of Jackson County for All that the changes would not lead to added costs.

Estimates by county staff list costs of at least $200,000, with more likely estimates falling above the half-million mark. Jordan’s numbers drew from a proposed 2025 budget implementing those changes that he said county staff completed Thursday morning before the 9 a.m. meeting.

The Rogue Valley Times submitted a records request for a copy of the referenced budget following the meeting. The Times was alerted that it was available for pickup at 4:42 p.m., 18 minutes before the close of the business day.

Even with a proposed salary cap, each new position would include health care and PERS costs of roughly $1,800 per person and would require added support staff. Jordan said the total personnel cost would go up from 2024’s number of $929,000 by roughly $114,000.

Under the contracted services section, Jordan outlined a mix of line items where costs would stay relatively flat, such as advertising, community promotions and a slight increase in document printing. Higher increases would include risk and workers’ compensation insurance, networking technology, the annual commissioner retreat and county vehicle usage for trips on county business to places such as Salem. He tallied the increase for contracted services at roughly $212,600.

“These are all things that people may not think of when they say it’s all going to cost the same, but this all costs money,” Jordan said.

He said the county intends to make these numbers public, and some expenses could be scrutinized and reconsidered, but it will still be a net increase.

“You can take some things out of there, but you can’t take it all out,” Jordan said. “There will be a cost increase … even if everything passes the way it’s been proposed with a salary cap.” 

The county’s $212,000 estimate assumes a salary cap, Jordan said. Without voters passing the salary cap, the number balloons to roughly $500,000 “at entry level” and close to $700,000 “at top level.”

“Because we’ll have two new commissioners going into the existing pay plan, still we’ll need an additional staff regardless of whether there’s a salary cap or not,” Jordan said.

Among the most significant expenses Jordan described were architectural and construction costs.

With an expansion of the board of commissioners by two seats, the county would need to build out the county auditorium to accommodate a 10-member budget committee at a cost of roughly $30,000, he said. Jordan also described significant one-time construction expenses needed to turn the three commissioner offices into five. He estimated the county office remodel is expected to cost between $300,000 and $450,000.

Combined, he said, the “total walk-in cost increase on the low end for year one” is roughly $592,600 and close to $700,000 for the “higher-cost remodel.”

Jordan separately clarified rules related to board members’ ability to meet, and described them as the same whether the board is composed of three or five commissioners.

“The main issue with that is convening,” Jordan said. “The problem in convening is that convening can be gathering in a physical location like we’re doing now, it can be telephonic video or telephonic technology, it can be — and this is where it gets a little bit not-so-correct when you say it’s fine for two commissioners to meet — it can be using serial electronic communication or using an intermediary.”

Jordan said the handbook provided by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office “is pretty strict” on the matter, no matter the size of the board. He said expanding the commissioner board to five “does not get us around that issue.”

“I don’t want the public to think that just by having five people that two people can go off and talk all the time about business — you can’t,” Jordan said.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said in the work session that he believes all conversations, all decisions on a matter should be discussed and decided in meetings, as the current structure allows.

“Doing this nine years, I’ve never had the instinct where I thought, ‘Boy, if I could talk to Colleen before this meeting we could come to an agreement,” Dyer said. Instead, he said it’s up to each board member to independently research and come to a conclusion.

“The public gets the benefit of all of that conversation, all of that information … it’s very important to me,” Dyer added. 

Dyer touched on Jordan’s cost claims and the meeting rule to claim that signatures were gathered under false pretenses. He described it as “misinformation” considering that the proposal has support from six former county commissioners.

“They have to have been noticed by the commissioners, by the promoters, but they had to be ignored,” Dyer said. “Their website, their materials continued to say five for the price of three — no additional costs — and that is just not accurate.”

He praised Jordan and county staff for their work on the budget.

“This is excellent. This is what the public needs: good, substantiated solid information,” Dyer said.

Dyer disputed claims that his opposition to the changes is partly self-serving. “For one thing, I haven’t announced if I’m going to run again.”

He defended the partisan structure of the county commissioners as an important way to know where commissioners stand, and praised the current three-person structure as “extremely effective.”

Dyer also threw out a barb asking why Jackson County for All proponents want to put the measure on the May 21 primary election, which is expected to attract roughly 40% to 50% fewer voters than is the November general election.

“How is that Jackson County for All of Us?” Dyer said.

Jackson County For All of Us lead petitioner Denise Krause was in the audience. When asked by the Times why Jackson County for All wants to be on the May ballot, Krause described it as a carefully weighed decision. The organization initially planned for the November ballot, but gathered enough signatures ahead of schedule.

“There’s pros and cons for either one, but we’re done — we might as well go on the May ballot,” Krause said.

Her concern was that other November ballot measures would drown out Jackson County for All’s goals.

“We don’t need to drag it out. We met our goal,” Krause said. “We didn’t expect to be this early, but we’re glad that we are.”

Krause disputed Dyer’s misinformation characterization. She said Jackson County for All has only talked “about how are we going to cover two additional people salary-wise.”

“We have been completely transparent with the information we have been given and have been able to get,” Krause said.

The organization has “made great efforts” trying to get data, Krause said. She described how they requested cost information from the county a few weeks ago.  

Jordan said that county staff finished tabulating the costs Thursday morning. When asked by a Jackson County for All supporter whether they’d get a response, Jordan instructed them to file a new records request.

Krause said the meeting “felt oppositional, and to me that’s disappointing.”

She said that she’s undeterred, and that Jackson County for All would continue to release more information about its proposal as supporters gather information.

“I’m glad that this is all coming out to the public because we need more transparency,” Krause said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rv-times.com or 458-488-2036. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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