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Marion County budget to increase sheriff's patrols and improve roads and bridges

Marion County commissioners are slated to approve a 2018-19 budget on Wednesday, June 27, that increases sheriff's patrols, improves roads and bridges, and reduces homelessness.

In presenting the budget, Chief Administrative Officer John Lattimer showed the county's 1863 budget document. Handwritten on one page, it included money for the county commissioners, sheriff, jail, prosecuting attorney, road supervisor, bridges and "support for paupers."

"We've come a long way since then, but we still spend our money on similar things and similar concerns," Lattimer told the county budget committee, which comprises the three county commissioners and three public members.

The 1863 budget of $12,480.10 was financed by taxes, grocery licenses, probate fees and other income. A photo from later in the 19th century shows 17 county officials.

Today, Marion County has a population of over 341,000, including 20 cities, 37 unincorporated communities and many rural areas.

The county's proposed new budget, which takes effect July 1, covers more than 600 pages, totals $445.4 million and includes 1,510 employees. It incorporates an increase of nearly $3 million for the Public Employees Retirement System and employee health care. Fringe benefits are 37 percent of personnel costs.

The county has a new courtroom to handle juvenile cases, a public safety building for the sheriff's office will open in September, and the county will break ground on a new Juvenile Department building.

Yet the county is able to keep its property tax rate stable. More money is coming in from the state's increased gas tax, federal monies to compensate for reduced timber harvests, and other sources. Only $71.3 million of the budget will come from current property taxes.

"Our economy is moving ahead and so are our resources," Lattimer said.

An example of being creative with cost savings is that Public Works trains new employees by repaving sections of the Oregon State Fairgrounds. In return, the Marion County Fair gets free use of the grounds.

Times and demands for services have certainly changed since the 19th century. The county no longer runs the public schools. And a significant part of next year's budget is devoted to upgrading the county's computer structure, which — by technological standards — is antiquated.

Still, 78 percent of the Marion County general fund goes to public safety.

"We still spend most of our dollars on law enforcement," Lattimer said. "County officials prioritized public safety in the 1800s as we do now."

Ten sheriff's deputies will be added for patroling unincorporated East Salem, financed by a fee on housing and property. That 5.5 square-mile urban area, which comprises the Hayesville and Four Corners neighborhoods, has a population as large as Keizer and generates a majority of the calls for Marion County Sheriff's Office services.

Federal funding will allow the county to restore a deputy for forest patrols in the Santiam Canyon. Federal forests cover more than one-fourth of Marion County.

Along with increasing sheriff's patrols, the county strives to prevent individuals from falling into crime, the press release stated.

"The work we do in public safety is very much a team effort," Sheriff Jason Myers said.

The release went on to boast that Marion County is known internationally for its innovative approaches to community policing and reducing recidivism. Transitional housing is a continuing project, because half the inmates released from incarceration have no place to call home. And the new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program brings together the sheriff's office and social services to help low-level, repeat offenders get on a straight path and stay on it.

The Health and Human Services Department has the most employees in the county — about 455. Public Works has the largest budget, $115.1 million.

"We are caretakers of a $2.5 billion transportation system," Public Works Director Alan Haley said.

The county maintains 1,118 miles of roads, 147 bridges and 28,000 signs. The department also is responsible for parks, land-use planning, waste and recycling, and other areas.

"We're ramping up our efforts and we have some really good projects for this year," County Engineer Cindy Schmitt said.

The Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing to consider the 2018-19 budget as part of its regular board session on Wednesday, June 27. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Senator Hearing Room at Courthouse Square located at 555 Court St. N.E., Salem. The full budget is available for review on the county website at:

ww HYPERLINK "www.co.marion.or.us/FIN/budget" w.co.marion.or.us/FIN/budget.

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