Malheur County freezes spending as emergency fund drained

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

The Malheur County Court on Wednesday imposed a hiring freeze and limited other expenses as its contingency fund of nearly a quarter million dollars has been depleted.

By a unanimous vote, the county court approved a resolution recognizing the county’s contingency fund of $212,165 is gone and there is a shortfall in the county’s operating budget.

The contingency account – the county’s emergency fund – was exhausted by snow removal costs ($160,406), sandbags ($4,500) and additional security and medical services incurred since the arrest of Anthony Montwheeler. The costs of Montwheeler continue as he was returned back to a regional hospital for treatment. This requires unbudgeted 24-hour daily security by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.

Starting today and continuing through June 30, no new positions or personnel will be funded. Departments wanting to hire for vacant positions now must obtain authorization from the county court on a case-by-case basis. Reclassifications of jobs to a higher pay range won’t be processed.

Travel for county employees also will be curtailed and a possible freeze for all out-of-county travel is being considered.

All county departments have been requested to submit plans on how to save money.

Travel for members of the county court has been reduced to $5,000. An assistant director of juvenile corrections will not be hired, saving the county $51,976. The County Clerk’s office will delay hiring an administrative assistant for three months, saving $7,500. In all, agencies have submitted savings totaling $175,000.

Members of the court warned continued weather-related costs and continuing costs associated with Montwheeler may require further actions to keep the county from exceeding its total budgeted expenditures.