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Commissioners tout relative budget stability at luncheon

Of the Keizertimes

If you want to get an idea of the state of the local economy, Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson uses street smarts.

“It costs, for a two-inch overlay, $150,000 per mile to overlay a road,” Carlson told Keizer Chamber of Commerce members at their monthly luncheon last week. “That’s a lot of money.”

The county maintains 932 miles of road, she said, and with a 20-year asphalt life this means about 47 miles a year should be resurfaced every year. In 2008 10.2 miles got the treatment, and 10.4 in 2009. In 2010 she hopes to get to 19.4 miles.

“It’s the same for us as it is for lots of local governments – lots of need,” she said. “The road condition is getting worse.”

She also highlighted the county’s health department efforts in enforcing restaurant cleanliness, noting they found eight – out of 1,533 – that failed inspection, and three were closed outright. Some 9,964 county infants received nutritional assistance from the county, and the Psychiatric Crisis Center evaluated some 3,278 people, she said.

Commissioner Sam Brentano also talked roads, in particular seeking federal assistance to improve the Woodburn interstate interchange. He said improvements there could improve traffic between Portland and Eugene.

And while saying government shouldn’t be tasked with creating public sector jobs, he acknowledged the role of government workers in the local economy.

“If government is your number one employer, if they’re threatened you have to know it affects everything important to you,” Brentano told chamber members.

The commission’s sole male representative – whose background is in waste disposal – touted the latest recycling numbers, which showed Marion County again leads the state in the recycling waste. It’s estimated 58.4 percent of Marion County recycleable waste is in fact recycled, when the statewide average is 48 percent, he said.

He also encouraged new technology for garbage incineration which could reduce the nitrous oxide emitted.

“I’m totally happy and proud of the system we have in Marion County and I want it to work, but there’s some issues we have to get through,” he said.

Commissioner Patti Milne noted the challenges the agricultural community faces and suggested the state could do more to find “opportunities where we may find some more flexibility and give our agricultural industry more chances to diversify their businesses.”

She also lamented that the state’s budget woes could mean cutting into the county’s share of lottery revenues, which the county has used in recent years to pay bonds on the Oregon Garden, improve Salem Airport, recruit businesses like Sanyo and also funds the county’s planning department.

And County Administrator John Lattimer said it’s “tough to predict what our financial state will be like.” But he believes the county has budgeted at a level that will be sustainable.

“We’re keeping a rainy day fund, which is not usual for local governments,” he said. “We can see how some of our costs are going to escalate.