Josephine County Commissioners drew a “roadmap” for spending COVID-19 relief funds but emphasized their plan could take a detour or two before final allocation. The list of all the grants from the county’s $16.9 million share can be found on the November 24, 2021 Weekly Business Session agenda posted on the Commissioners’ web site:
Airport projects got a big share of the money, and the county decided to take 10 percent off the top for “administrative” purposes but in reality the $1.7 million they shaved off the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding will be funneled to the Sheriff’s Department, which is facing financial woes even with the passage of the Jail and Juvenile Levy. Those funds do not pay for day-to-day operations in the Sheriff’s Department and the grants from the state for illegal marijuana eradication efforts can only be spent for that purpose.
Commissioner Darin Fowler said the approved spending list will still need a process for vetting expenditures so this may not be the way ARPA funds are finally allocated. He said the big, armored vehicle for the sheriff has been taken out and will be paid for by the marijuana funds or a mix of funding. “It’s a useful piece of equipment that protects our deputies going out to cannabis sites,” he said.
Commission Chair Dan DeYoung called the allocations “flexible” even at this stage because other funding, through the recently passed infrastructure bill, may end up paying for some of the items on the list so money can be shifted to other worthy projects.
Rob Brandes from Public Works reminded Commissioners this money not only gets long-needed projects done around the county but will be a big stimulus to the local economy as most of the contracts for the work will be going to local providers. “Economic stimulus is not a small part of this nearly $17 million,” he said.
Fowler, who has called the COVID relief funds “monopoly money” and criticized the Biden Administration for throwing money around said he didn’t feel guilty taking “free money” because he felt the federal government has cheated Josephine County out of logging receipts for the past 10 years so “I think we have full justification for taking the money.” He said he doesn’t know how other counties without that justification “sleep at night” taking the relief funds.
In other business Commissioners approved contracts for preliminary architectural and engineering services for a new evidence warehouse to be built on Sheriff’s Department land and for seismic retrofitting for the Justice Building. They also approved the purchase of two 31 passenger diesel vehicles for the county’s transit system for $530,000. These will replace two older and smaller busses. Money for the busses comes from grants and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Transportation Director Scott Chancey said these buses are big enough to meet the COVID requirement that passengers stay three feet apart while riding a bus. He said before the pandemic ridership was increasing and he expects it to go up when COVID eases. He says the department does have two electric vehicles but they are only used around town because they don’t have the power to get over the passes to Medford or Cave Junction. This caused DeYoung to go on a rant about the “big push” by the current administration to cut the use of fossil fuels. “This will never happen because there’s not enough power to get over the mountain,” he said. “I don’t mind a golf cart mentality for around town but if we do away with fossil fuel we have to figure out some way to get around and they’re taking away our ability to make electricity while taking away our fossil fuel.”
DeYoung also asked Chancey if there is any way to get Jackson County to pay for a share of our transportation system since many of our routes go into that county. He said Josephine County is currently in the Rogue Valley Transportation District with Jackson and the transportation relationship between the two counties will be subject of a study soon.
Commissioners also approved a grant application for FEMA hazard mitigation funds to shore up the dam at Lake Selmac. A previous application was turned down but Recreation Director Sarah Garceau said she applied again because she isn’t sure the new infrastructure bill will have money for dams. Studies have shown if an earthquake caused the dam to fail several homes below it would be in danger. The grant requires matching funds which would amount to about a quarter of a million dollars Garceau said. Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said it should be noted in the grant application that the lake is the primary water source for fire suppression in the Selma area. Last time the grant was denied it was because the lake has no other purpose than recreation, Garceau said. In addition to dam reinforcement, the lake could also use dredging to help with depth issues and water health, but that is another costly project. Fowler commented that Lake Selmac is a man-made lake because “God skipped over Josephine County for lakes so we needed to do this.” He said he hopes the grant is approved this time because there are houses below the dam “and we don’t want to be responsible if the dam breaks.”
During the Requests and Comments time for the public the perennials showed up with their dire warnings about COVID vaccines and quoted people who have been exposed as spreaders of misinformation, including anti-vaxxer Robert F Kennedy Jr, who wrote a book disparaging Dr. Anthony Fauci that DeYoung called a “best seller.” Craig Hinkle called for the government to be overthrown and urged unvaccinated people to resist wearing masks to show non-compliance with government orders. His wife Judy said COVID vaccinations, stimulated by 5G towers, create a filament network in your body which passes into the brain so that can be manipulated by outside forces.
When the usual anti-vaxxers, who are always allowed to speak first, were done, two people told Commissioners it was about time they did what they promised and establish fire protection standards for the county. Fire protection standards were put off until November 9, then postponed until possibly in January “to allow outside conversations to mature,” said Dorothy Yetter, who was vice-chair of the Fire Protection Committee. That committee delivered a set of private fire department standards for the Commission’s consideration that County Counsel formulated as an ordinance, she said. Those standards were shelved when the proposed fire district was put on the May ballot, but the fire district was not approved, so now it’s up to Commissioners to provide standards, otherwise anyone could buy an old fire truck and start selling subscriptions for structure protection that “they may or may not be able to really provide.”
Brian Robinson also prodded the Commission to move on the standards. He said Commissioners should not procrastinate because they fear angering a voting block. “Leadership takes courage. Doing the right thing requires sticking your neck out a bit. Just get it done,” he said.
Fowler, addressing the anti-vaxxers first, said people are getting “kind of done with it (COVID), especially if you get outside those liberal cities.” He complained that government has no plan to end the mask and vaccine mandates and vaccines shouldn’t be the only tool in the toolbox for dealing with COVID, calling it “unamerican” because “we changed the world over a few hundred years and to think you wouldn’t leave it with the people to decide what to do means the government is way out over their skis.”
Fowler agreed “we do need to adopt those fire protection standards. That will happen soon, but you gotta go with the speed of government and I know sometimes it doesn’t feel right. When someone said we ignored everything the Fire Protection Committee said, that’s just false. We listened to that Fire Protection Committee. We put something on the ballot. We listened to what they thought it should be like and we used their information to do that. So, saying we ignored the recommendations from that committee is patently false. So, I would make that correction. But I know we are going to look at these standards. I will keep pushing for it, and we will do it soon. There’s just some things, like I said last time, that need to mature. And you can take that to say whatever you want but that’s where we’re at right now.
Baertschiger just commented that COVID has been hijacked by political pundits, and said as far as the fire standards go, it would be great to get everyone in a room to talk. He disputed the notion someone could buy an old engine and start taking subscriptions saying, “companies have to have certain minimum standards so to say there’s no standards is not a true statement.” Then Baertschiger took issue with being criticized, saying “I get criticized all the time. Well, you know what? The next time there’s an open election go down to the courthouse, go to the Secretary of State and fill out a candidacy form and run. And see how well YOU do.”
DeYoung agreed that the fire standards need to get done and said as Chairman he’d get it on the agenda. Then he got off on a rant about bad government in Salem and how it makes local politicians look bad. He blamed Salem for all the county’s cannabis problems and said if people who disagree with him just call and talk to him about an issue they will usually come around when they get the “whole story.” He said he agreed fire protection standards need to be addressed and strayed off with a story about how fire companies years ago used to be called “foundation savers.”
“That was their name. It’s not funny. It isn’t a joke and nowadays that isn’t the case. Why? Because maybe a great big company with national roots moved in and saw a need in Josephine County and said ‘hey, we’re going to set up shop here,’ “ said DeYoung.
Then DeYoung got into the recent 5.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment Commissioners gave non-union employees, including themselves, at their Nov. 10 meeting. They did not mention at the time the raise included board members. He claimed the Commissioners’ raise was paltry compared to all the money they saved the county when they cut $170,000 out of their own budget. Earlier this year, Commissioners reduced the staff in their office, saying they had to be an example for other departments who may have to make cuts. “That’s $680,000 savings over the four years I would be here,” he said. To people who say they don’t deserve the raise he said “well, we’ve more than enough paid for that out of what we’ve done in reviewing our own status right here during budget committee hearings.” DeYoung complained the board got no recognition for making the cut in their own budget and said he thought the spread in the Nov. 21 Courier listing county employee’s salaries was improper because his dad told him it isn’t polite to ask people what they make when he was a kid at the dinner table.
Fowler said he wasn’t aware he was giving himself a raise at the time they approved them for staff and said he is willing to go back and undo it, at least for himself. Baertschiger said nothing about the raise.
Herman on the Bill Meyer Show Tuesday Nov. 23
Right-wing talk radio in Southern Oregon is ablaze with talk of “vaccine passports” they believe is going to splash their health records all over for everyone to see. In reality, it’s basically an app for people who need to show their COVID vaccine status for work or travel, or for some entertainment venues and it is just in the discussion phase. Oregon contemplates digital ‘vaccine passport,’ but timing and implementation uncertain (msn.com)
During Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger’s radio appearance Tuesday, November 23, he said he hadn’t heard of the digital vaccine passport project but isn’t in favor of having his health records available all over the world.
When asked about the recent raise he and the other Commissioners gave themselves, Baertschiger said he didn’t realize he’d given himself a raise until he went to sign off on the action and asked a staff member if it included the board and she said “yes.”
“I said oh boy the Courier is going to have fun with this.”
He said the article that came out wasn’t bad…” just the Courier was concerned the raise wasn’t mentioned during the meeting.”
Baertschiger said the raises occurred because the Citizen Compensation Board said Commissioners should be part of COLA raises and “I’m disappointed in myself for not catching it.”
He and host Bill Meyer then discussed legislative compensation which is “no way to get wealthy and wondered why there are so many vacant positions in government and the private sector. Herman said people are probably living on stimulus but that won’t last forever. He said vacancies in the government workforce are being used to pay down the debt in a convoluted economic discussion about inflation and increasing wages people don’t deserve, like getting $15 an hour working at McDonalds.