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News Release
OP-ED: Sheriff Roberts calls for outside forensic analysis of Clackamas County's financial state - 02/07/20


An Op-Ed from Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts:


As presented to me, Clackamas County's General Fund is in a financial crisis, and the County Finance Department cannot credibly explain how we got here.

The County recently launched a messaging campaign that includes public polling and refers to the need to "right-size" the County budget. In recent months, I've learned our new county administrator has inherited a problem in which he's being forced to look at cutting programs — eliminating employees and services — to address what amounts to a financial crisis for the County.

County departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, have been asked to prepare budget-cut scenarios of 5, 10 and 15 percent of the County's General Fund support.

These astonishing developments come despite a steady rise in Clackamas County population and tax revenue. The managers of the contract cities for whom we provide police services tell me their budgets are doing well.

On behalf of our employees and on behalf of the community we serve, I have an obligation to ask: In a robust economy with increasing growth and revenue, how did this financial crisis happen?

On Thursday, Feb. 6, I delivered to County Chair Jim Bernard a letter asking the Board Of County Commissioners to engage an independent firm to conduct a forensic financial analysis to review the County Finance Department’s financial management practices. We need to know why and how the County General Fund is reportedly facing an estimated $8 million to $12 million deficit, in a time of unprecedented County growth.

While attempting to determine how the county ended up in this situation, I have received inadequate responses that provide little clarity. At this writing, the County Finance Department doesn’t have county policies and procedures or even an accounting manual guiding their work, which would allow the Board and the public to better understand its financial management practices.

County Finance claims that they currently rely on the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) best practices; this is not responsible financial management of a more than $1 billion budget. Even the GFOA promotes adopting formal written financial policies as a best practice.

My concern doesn't end there. Even as this crisis is emerging, Clackamas County is looking to fund a new $230 million courthouse, with unanimous backing from the County Commissioners.

Based on correspondence with Chair Bernard, I was disturbed to learn that the County is still considering a draw on General Fund dollars to help pay for that new courthouse, if voters turn down a proposed general obligation bond. 

Polling shows there is currently inadequate voter support for that general obligation bond. The Commissioners will almost certainly draw on General Fund dollars — the same dollars they're currently asking us to slash from our budgets — to ensure the courthouse's construction.

In other words: The Commissioners support building a courthouse at the cost of county jobs and much-needed services.

This is unacceptable. Furthermore, any additional burden on the General Fund is unacceptable when it comes to public safety. The Sheriff's Office has already worked for a decade to streamline operations, eliminating critical positions to meet prior budget cuts. From 2009-19, CCSO's calls for service increased 60.5% and the county's population increased by over 43,000 people. In that same time period, our Patrol deputy staffing numbers remained unchanged. We are doing incredible work, but we are not keeping pace with county growth.

The Board has a public duty, before it approves any further commitment of County funds to a new courthouse, to first determine how County financial mismanagement led to its financial crisis.

I am aware the County Administrator recently directed a major restructuring of Finance Department leadership. Now, the Board must take the next right step and engage an independent firm to conduct a transparent forensic analysis of the County’s financial management practices.

The public deserves immediate action on this critical matter.

Craig Roberts
Clackamas County Sheriff

 

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