As Lane County crosses its fingers in hope that Congress will renew federal county funding before massive budget cuts hit county services from the jail to animal control, sparks flew at the Feb. 8 commissioner meeting over proposals to make both real and “symbolic” budget cuts.
A proposal by Commissioner Jay Bozeivich was placed on the agenda to cut $30,000 from the strapped county budget by eliminating the county board’s deferred compensation plan, which costs the county about $1,500 per commissioner; cutting the commissioners’ office expenses to $1,000 a quarter; and by a cut in the board’s general expense contingency budget.
Bozievich said in the meeting that his proposal is “not a lot of money but I think it’s a very symbolic gesture.”
Commissioner Rob Handy countered with a proposal of his own that he said would cut up to 15 percent from the highest salaried employees at Lane County and would net more than $1 million in savings.
Handy said it’s time “to move beyond symbolic approaches to the budget.” He said there are 65 people making more than $90,000 at Lane County and they “have not shared the pain that the rest of folks at Lane County have.”
The discussion of Handy’s proposal became heated at times.
County Administrator Liane Richardson said the cuts might affect doctors and attorneys and “conversations like this with the people who we can’t replace are going to cause them to go looking elsewhere.”
She said, “You are going to make it even worse for the people who are going to be stuck running this,” and called Handy’s proposal “really bad policy.”
Bozievich said, “You have to be selective in how you run an organization.” And said he had “no interest in directing staff to do that research.”
Other commisioners questioned the legality of Handy’s proposal and whether some of the higher salaried employees were represented by unions and had union contracts. But Commissioner Pete Sorenson said he saw the value in looking into the proposal for nonunion contract employees, including the commissioners themselves.
Sorenson said “people want more than symbolism. They want a sense that elected leaders are doing things in the public interest, the purpose isn’t simply to put out a press release.”
“As difficult as it is to discuss cutting salaries, including my own salary, I’d like to know what my options are,” Sorenson said.
Handy tried several times to amend Bozievich’s plan in order to direct Richardson to look into his plan. It failed each time with Handy and Sorenson in favor and Bozievich, Sid Leiken and Faye Stewart against, saying the agenda team would take it under consideration due to an earlier “head nod.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to implement Bozievich’s cuts, but not to devote staff time to Handy’s proposal and the possibility of saving the county $1 million.
“The public doesn’t want symbols,” Handy said. “They want us to make meaningful decisions — and conservatives have signaled that cuts from the highest salaried managers and supervisors are off the table.”