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Measure 28 fallout begins

Eight Oregon State Troopers from The Dalles headquarters were told not to show up for work today — the first reality from Tuesday’s defeat of Measure 28.

Cuts are also looming in the budgets of local human resource agencies, schools and courts that have officials scrambling to figure out which programs will be reduced and which will be eliminated altogether.

State Police Sgt. Julie Wilcox said not only is the state losing 129 patrol troopers, the crime lab is also facing a 60 percent reduction in its workforce that will delay the processing of evidence for all other law enforcement agencies.

The three-year income tax surcharge, expected to generate $310 million, was rejected by 56 percent of the voters statewide, with 44 percent giving approval. In Hood River County about 65 percent of the special election ballots were returned, with 53 percent of voters vetoing the added tax and 47 percent in favor.

“People are still kind of reeling from things and trying to get their sea legs back. I know I am,” said Gwen Gardner, business manager for Hood River County School District, which must cut $853,000. About half of that, or $428,000 would be realized in cutting four school days. The district would also empty the remaining $250,000 in its land acquisition fund, leaving $175,000. Textbooks and supplies and other cutbacks will need to be made to make up the remaining amount, according to Gwen Gardner, district business manager. She said the district is “hopeful” it will not have to cut any more jobs. She said specific recommended cuts will be presented to the school board in its next regular meeting, Feb. 12 at Hood River Valley High School. In the case of State Police, the impact is known right away.

“Protection of the people is the first and foremost responsibility of government and these cuts to a vital service affect the quality of people’s lives — and possibly even their life itself,” Wilcox said.

For example, Wilcox said the layoff of OSP officers will make it more difficult for backup units to arrive at problem scenes since patrols will be spread over an expanded area. In addition, she said the lead state law enforcement agency expects a 50 percent reduction in its arrest rate. In 2002, troopers from The Dalles office made 475 general arrests, 186 from traffic violations, and 217 from DUII, reckless driving and other road crimes.

Wilcox said her agency is hopeful that Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, will prevail in his plan to stabilize OSP funding by adding a 3.1 percent surcharge to all auto insurance policies. If enacted, the cost for the average policy holder will increase by $1.83 per month and free up $74.4 million from the biennium general fund.

Two Hood River agencies also hard-hit by the demise of Measure 28 are seeking to calm the fears of clients and family members until the total funding fallout is known. The Columbia Gorge Center, which helps about 100 developmentally disabled individuals with independent work and living skills, is slated to lose $400,000. Lay off notices have been sent to 12 staffers — and that number could climb to 48 by the beginning of March.

But Patti Elkins, CGC director, said in spite of the dire financial straits facing local service agencies, she is proud of the networking that has taken place in recent months to prepare for this worst case scenario.

“We were able to develop partnerships with other service agencies that will help us all in the future,” she said.

One of those partner agencies is the Mid-Columbia Center for Living, which is forced to absorb an immediate budget reduction of $529,000 this fiscal year and $1.3 million next year. That will force some programs to be dropped, including the 24-hour community crisis services for people suffering acute psychiatric or addiction disorders and family support services for persons with developmental disabilities. Non-Medicaid clients and those covered under the Oregon Health Plan standard package will also no longer be able to obtain some mental health and treatment services. Sharon Guidera, MCCFL executive director, said client care will be prioritized based on clinical need and urgency of care.

“MCCFL is in the process of redesigning the service system to adjust to the reductions in funding,” said Guidera. “We will continue to offer screening and referral services to all residents, however, due to funding restrictions, we will not be able to offer a full continuum of services to persons who are not covered and cannot pay.”

The Hood River County Commission on Children and Families lost an additional $6,000 as a direct result of Measure 28, which was added to about $100,000 already lost in the recent economic downturn. HRCCCF Director Joella Dethman said most prevention, parenting and at-risk youth counseling programs will no longer be available for families who do not qualify for state aid and are unable to pay on their own.

“It is especially important for families to have help during bad economic times that bring more stresses,” said Dethman.

The Hood River Circuit Court will be closed on Fridays from March 1 through June 30 to reduce staff payroll costs by 10 percent. In addition, the prosecution of many drug and non-person crimes will be deferred during that same period since the Seventh Judicial District fund used to hire court-appointed attorneys is facing a $104,846 cut.

“For four months, the people’s portion of the court will largely be gutted,” said Seventh Judicial District Judge Paul Crowley. “After justice has regained all of its wheels, it will take many months to get the train back on track.”

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