The Harney County Budget Board met on April 13, 14 and 27, 2016.  Members of the Board include Curt Blackburn, Teri Hellbush, Holly Smith and the County Commissioners.  The public is welcome to attend.  Attendance included administrative assistant, Sharon Johnson, and several primary candidates.  Fiscal year begins July 1.

 Topics of the conversation so far have included:

  •  Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) – The State has been trying to fix PERS ever since it was implemented and it is now into Tier III of newer employees in trying to downsize government liability.  The program is tied to the stock market.  The State Legislature never took rules off.  It guarantees Tier I (original) employees a 8% return on their accounts.  Employees contribute 6% of their wages while the employer has paid 12.1%, and that may go to 18%.


    Due to the appearance of excess, the State paid out three billion dollars to employees in 1995.  The County eliminated their reserve funds three years ago.  Due to lower interest returns, the State filed a suit to change the rules and lost on the basis that “a contract is a contract.” 

    There is no preparation for the loss.  Harney County faces payment of the current rate plus three years catch up. 

  • Court is not filling vacancies without justification from department directors.  County road crew down to 14 from over 30. (Observation:   All employees were to take five day furloughs, but several departments seem to be exempt.  Road, law enforcement and public safety are examples)

  • Secure Rural School Funds – This was intended to be a seven year payment and we are now in year ten.  We did receive over a million dollars in payments this year, however, it does not impact our local schools directly.  The 25% portion for the schools is passed through directly to the State.  The State determines how much the schools receive based on attendance.    

    The 75% portion that was allocated to the road department will have a direct impact as the funds diminish or go away.

  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) – This was also to be a seven year payment and we are now in year ten.  We have received $83,000 that was retained from the year before.  The payment has been 1.8 million in years past, with 25% to schools and 75% to the County Road Department.   Will create hardship next year if not received.

  • 911 Fund has not been collecting $125,000 from partners for the last four years.  Judge Grasty recommended making it a Special District.  Also stated that the 911 Committee needs to take responsibility for charging.

  • District Attorney, Tim Cullihan, has been acting as County Council in addition to his duties as District Attorney.  With his retirement as DA, that budget item will be moved to County Court and Cullihan will remain as County Council.

    The DA’s salary is paid by the State.  The new budget proposes an increase in the Deputy District Attorney salary to the middle range of other counties.

  • Harney County prefers that larger cases be handled by the US Attorney’s Office since cases prosecuted here would be under our supervision.  Prisoners are returned to the Counties where they were sentenced.  If juvenile offenders are from other areas we prefer that they are tried there.  (Opinion:  Our court system and community transition program is too small to handle ALL potential cases)

  • The County Employee Retention Fund adds $5 each month ($60/yr.) to salaries of employees who have served five years.  (NOTE:  The cap of 20 yr. accruement was left out of an affirmation resolution by the County Court in 2015)  Judge Grasty did confirm that this contribution does affect social security, PERS, FICA and does equate to a pay raise.   Part time employees do not receive.

  • New marijuana laws have reduced the number of prosecutions in both drug and alcohol related cases.

  • County will need to replace the jail.

  • Economic Development is budgeted for $100,000, and is a separate fund.  The State Lottery provides $65,000 and requires that it be accounted for.

  • Only increase in revenue will be from increase in employment.  Private sector needs to step up!

  • Farm Deferral -   Program began in 1963.  Farm deferral accounts for 45% of property accounts in Harney County.

  • Judge Grasty stated that there is NOT a legitimate contractor in Burns.  Insurance requirements are too high.  Less than 600 hours does not have to report PERS.

  • Judge Grasty offered that he had invited LCDC here to address Goal 5 (Natural Resources) within our Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

  • Brice Mertz received a $30,000 grant to map all roads in Harney County (down to two track) for emergency management.  (History – the County’s earlier effort to recognize a County Road Map for the purposes of litigation was deferred due to legal implications).

  • The County has reserve funds in general fund and various departments.  Unappropriated Ending Fund balance cannot be touched before July 1 of any given year.

  • Justice of the Peace, Donna Thomas, plans to re-establish a Teen Court.  A program that was discontinued fourteen years ago.


    Next Budget Board meeting is May 10th, from 10am to 4pm.  The public is welcome to attend.


Barbara Cannady, Editor




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