Hood River County Commission’s worst nightmare has come true: Both revenue requests failed on the May 21 Special Districts Election ballot.
The measures were based on feedback the county received at community forums held in October and November on how to resolve the county’s ongoing budget crisis.
“I’m disappointed because of the process we went through to get that far,” said County Chair Mike Oates of the election results, referencing the community forums. “That’s how we decided what to go out for … Obviously, we didn’t get the vocal majority at the forums.”
Measure 14-65, the Public Health and Safety Local Option Tax, failed 51.43 percent to 48.57 percent, and Measure 14-66, the Prepared Food and Beverage Tax, failed 59.45 percent to 40.55 percent.
“We’ll have to make that decision on where we go as a board, but I don’t think that (the Prepared Food and Beverage Tax) is something we’ll try again,” said Oates, adding that the board could consider trying again to get the Public Health and Safety Local Option Tax passed.
Regardless, he said, “We’ll look at something because we know that to go back to how we we’re actually being funded now, the cuts would actually be more severe.”
When asked in an earlier interview what the county would do if one or both measures failed, Commissioner Karen Joplin said, “We will make the decision to stay within our means, but it will be at great service loss for the community.”
As of this budget cycle, county staff estimates a $1.6 million deficit and a total $5.3 million in unmet need. Budget problems have plagued Hood River County for years but now, the county is at a point where it will have to significantly cut services if it doesn’t find more revenue. The county is able to take $750,000 from its reserve fund for the next two budget cycles to balance the budget, but once that’s depleted, Joplin said she expects that the county will focus on preserving services the state considers essential.
“Anything that is considered non-essential, that is what would get cut,” she said in an earlier interview. Those services include parks and recreation, trail management, law enforcement, the OSU extension program, snowplowing, and more. “We would be operating within our means and the county would look significantly different,” she said.
The Board of Commissioners will likely hold a special meeting within the next few weeks to discuss how to proceed in resolving the county’s budget issues, Oates said.