But county leaders have to approve all hiring, OK grantsTILLAMOOK - Halfway through the fiscal year, Tillamook County officials remain optimistic about getting by without making serious budget cuts.

Major reductions in projected 2001 state timber revenues forced the Tillamook County Budget Committee - made up of county commissioners and three appointed lay members - to wrestle with a $1.4 million shortfall for the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

Commissioners compensated by ordering across-the-board belt tightening. "Our adopted 2002-2003 budget was balanced by using $1.55 million in unallocated resources," said Tim Josi, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

"We now have about $4.8 million in reserves. Will we end up using part or all of the $1.55 million? It's too early to tell. The budget year is half over, but the departments have been very frugal with their spending, and we are holding the line on adding new programs and hiring new employees."

As of Nov. 30, the county had roughly $800,000 more in its coffers than it did at the same point during the previous two years, said Commissioner Paul Hanneman. "This is in spite of (unstable) state and national economies," he noted.

"Favorable timber receipts and property tax collections spiked county revenues during this period."

The county continues to exercise extreme caution, however. For example, all vacant positions need commissioners' approval before they're filled. Also, a new contracting order had been adopted that requires board approval for grant applications.

On the downside, newly issued projections for the county's share of state timber revenues for July 2003 through June 2004 fall more than $500,000 short of earlier predictions.

Despite a $1.8 million allotment in the county general fund, current projections indicate revenues for that period will be $6 million, according to Mark Labhart, Oregon Department of Forestry Tillamook District manager. He attributes the discrepancy to fluctuating markets. "Timber prices during that period were reasonable, but not all that great," he said.

On the other hand, future timber volumes should make up for a dip in lumber prices, said Labhart. "Except for the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the future is pretty bright. Fiscal year 2003 sales will total about 70 million board feet, and fiscal year 2004 sales will total about 100 million board feet. This is about double what was sold in fiscal year 2001."

Meanwhile, the county isn't suffering along with much of the rest of the state when it comes to employee retirement funds as it is not in the Public Employees' Retirement System, said Hanneman.

"Our fund has declined only 2 percent as of November, compared to almost 20 percent for PERS," he said.

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