County contingency fund empty

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 to mount as he was returned recently to a regional hospital for continued treatment. This requires around-the-clock security by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, not in the budget. How much will be spent on extra security and medical costs for him remains unknown.

Montwheeler faces murder and other charges for a January episode that left two people dead and one injured. Montwheeler was injured in the collision.

Continuing through the end of the budget year on 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 position has been vacant since the promotion of Susan Gregory to the director’s position. With case numbers down, the idea of not filling the position has been discussed by the court in the past months.

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.