Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge (Rachel Parsons/The Enterprise)

VALE – The Malheur County Court has set aside $25,000 in new spending in its economic development budget to hire a public affairs worker.

The money was allocated in the county’s 2020-2021 budget but when, where and how the money will be spent remains unclear, according to county officials. The move comes as the county faces a growing Covid crisis, a high poverty rate and potential future budget restraints.

The position will not be full time slot and may be done with a contractor, said Linda DuBois, county administrator.

“It is not meant to be a new county position,” said DuBois.

The decision for the funds was made during the county’s budget hearings in May but no county official could explain who proposed it.

Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said he wasn’t sure when or where the concept was developed.

“It wasn’t any one individual. Probably the dollar amount isn’t to put someone on full time but it might do for some piecemeal stuff,” said Joyce.

County officials confirmed there was no cost analysis completed for the positon nor was there any type of memo crafted to make the case for the new spending.

Joyce said the $25,000 may not even be spent.

“If it happens, it happens. We’ll see,” said Joyce.

Commissioner Larry Wilson said the idea for the public affairs position can be traced to the county’s effort to fight a national monument designation for the Owyhee Canyonlands more than four years ago.

 “Then we found out there were various counties that had a little media deal like that,” said Wilson.

Wilson also said within the past year, “growers and packers and shipper folks interested in the rail center” approached the county about creating a media position.

“Frankly it was in response to possibly channeling information through a media group to address all of the millions of questions so it would come out in a public venue,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the new position could also help with the release of information regarding the Covid epidemic.

“We thought it might be handy. But we haven’t taken any action to use any of it yet,” said Wilson.

Wilson echoed Joyce that the county doesn’t have a plan yet to use the money.

“If we don’t use it, which we really are not anticipating on it, we could easily shift it and use it somewhere else,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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