Last Friday the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments began preparing for a major budget hit by either laying off or reducing the hours of 10 employees.
That move was made after MCCOG calculated a $935,607 deficit in its operating capital for fiscal year 2003-04, a reduction of 21 percent. MCCOG’s most recent staffing reduction is expected to shave off $425,280 of that deficit. However, it follows the loss of three staffers last year and is anticipated to bring across-the-board service and program cuts. MCCOG channels state and federal grant dollars to Hood River, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco and Wheeler counties. These funds are used in five program areas, including retraining of dislocated workers, teaching job skills to disadvantaged youth, and providing transportation, meals, and home care to senior citizens.
“We’re trying to figure out what we are going to do, we’re going to have to redesign our service delivery to match our remaining personnel,” said John Arens, MCCOG executive director.
He said the MCCOG board of directors had hoped to offset any further loss of funding earlier this year by increasing the dues of each member county. That fee increased from 35 cents for each resident to $1 and generated about $49,500 in revenue that is being used for Area Agency on Aging programs and a limited supply of working capital.
However, Arens said MCCOG’s budget crisis couldn’t be avoided because of tough economic times at the state and federal levels. He said the agency operates on revenue from 60 separate grant streams and some of these funding sources have been tapped out.
Arens said an irony of MCCOG’s current financial plight is that it was forced to lay off its part-time grant writer last winter — just when the need to scout out additional public and private dollars was becoming critical. He and three other remaining department heads will now tackle that task in addition to overseeing about 50 remaining employees.
“We are a grant-driven entity but we need to diversify our resources somehow,” Arens said.
That challenge is complex because MCCOG’s grant funds have to be kept in dedicated programs and can’t be moved into an area of need, according to Arens. However, Arens said MCCOG can contract with local governments for provision of services that then recoup an administrative fee. The agency has also established the Four Rivers Community Corporation, which allows it to receive charitable donations. Arens said that citizens can call 1-888-316-1362 to set up a tax-deductible contribution to the MCCOG program and location of their choice.
He said MCCOG’s budget committee and management have begun investigating all of the available options to retain as many programs as possible. A staff meeting to begin discussions on a redesign of the service delivery system will take place on July 3, just two days after the new budget goes into effect.
“This will be a huge undertaking. For this to be successful we will need the entire agency to be proactive in this whole process,” wrote Arens in a May 30 memo to the remaining employees.