GRANTS PASS, Ore. – As Keith Heck and Cherryl Walker officially take their seats on the Josephine County Board of Commissioners, they said they are ready for the challenges ahead.
As recent years have shown them, the county is not short on challenges. Heck and Walker were sworn in this week, and took part in their first board meeting Tuesday. Both say the most pressing issue is the county’s continued financial problems.
In 2012, a reduction in federal timber payments and the failure of a public safety tax levy caused major cutbacks. The sheriff’s office laid off deputies, cut back on patrols and had to release dozens of inmates from the county jail. Cuts were also made to the county’s Animal Control department and Public Health.
Heck said one of the main stumbling blocks for the county is a lack of participation from citizens. He said he wants to connect with the community and bring people to the table to discuss their concerns, and what they want to see moving forward.
“This is not your problem to solve, this is our problem to solve,” he said, “And we need to be able to pull together as a community, and not just pull in a variety of directions, and basically pull ourselves apart – can’t do that.”
Walker wants to take another look at using taxes to address the cutbacks to various county departments. She said finding them stable funding is an immediate priority.
“The only thing that supports government is taxes, there’s nothing else out there,” she said. “They talk about grants, ‘we can get more grants,’ well that’s your tax money that’s been filtered through either the state or the federal government.”
Heck and Walker replaced outgoing commissioners Don Reedy and Harold Haugen, who were both interim commissioners.