During its regular meeting on Aug. 2, the Harney County Court agreed to begin negotiating an economic development services contract with Gregory Smith & Company LLC of Heppner.
The court also received proposals from PARC Resources, Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation (GEODC), and Denise Rose. All four applicants were interviewed by the court on July 26.
“This has been one of the toughest decisions I’ve been tasked with in my years as a county commissioner or judge,” Harney County Judge Pete Runnels said. “All of us sitting here want what is best for this county. We had four very strong proposals and a very good interview interaction. Any one of them could bring a new focus on economic development in Harney County, Burns, and Hines, but deciding which one is right and would fit this community is a true challenge. I have gone back and forward in my mind the last seven days [regarding] who I think would be the right choice. There are strengths and weaknesses to each to sort through.”
He added that two of the applicants stated who would serve in the local office, while the other two were undecided. Current Harney County Economic Development Director Randy Fulton would run the office on behalf of PARC Resources, and Denise Rose offered to provide economic development services as an individual. GEODC and Gregory Smith & Company did not state who their local representatives would be, and Runnels said he’d like the court to be involved in the selection process.
“With all that being said, I will fully support whomever is chosen today to be successful moving forward. Personally, myself, I have chosen PARC Resources,” he said.
Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh said she preferred Gregory Smith & Company.
“To me, they were by far the strongest applicant with years of success and experience, specifically in economic development with all it’s aspects – planning, strategies, marketing, financing, contacts, partnerships, presentation, and professional rhythm,” she said. “There’s is a team approach with a strong, positive leader and a deep support bench of specialists in all those areas. Plus, they will be hiring a local person to be the local presence. For the same cost as the other applicants, very close, and in some cases less than others bid, Greg Smith & Company will bring more economic development tools, experience, and professionals to the table, and I support their selection.”
Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens complimented all four of the applicants, but said he believes Gregory Smith & Company has “the potential and capacity to take us to a different level with economic development in Harney County.”
He then made a motion to begin contract negations with Gregory Smith & Company, and it carried unanimously.
“I would sure like to hook them up with Denise Rose,” Owens added. “I don’t think we choose who they pick as their local presence, but if we have some recommendations, I think they’d be glad to hear them.”
Runnels said Gregory Smith & Company offered to provide economic development services for $7,000 a month, which was the lowest proposal. However, the economic development budget is expected to increase by about $30,000 annually.
Community Corrections Director Lodi Presley attended the meeting to provide a department update.
She reported that community corrections was fully funded across the state, but there will be a slight decrease in local funding. She explained that funding is based on a caseload “snapshot,” which decreased by about 20 people this biennium. However, she added that the decrease has been accounted for, and it will not impact operations or the level of service provided.
Dorroh asked why there was a drop in caseload. Presley replied that it’s hard to say, but it could be contributed to the legalization of marijuana, people moving out of the area, and people coming to the end of their supervision terms.
Presley also reported that the department used grant funding to purchase a duplex, which provides transitional housing for people who were recently released from prison. She said people are generally allowed to stay in the duplex for about 90 days, but, given the scarcity of rentals in the community, some have been allowed to stay longer.
“It’s hard to secure housing as a felon, but it’s hard to secure housing in general right now, so we have let people stay,” she explained.
“I think the transitional house has been a success,” Runnels said. “I think it has worked out as intended too.”
He asked whether those who’ve been in the house longer would be bumped by those who were more recently released from prison. Presley replied that they would, but it hasn’t been necessary yet. She added that she receives release plans for people who will be exiting the prison system within about six months.
She added that the department hopes to obtain security cameras for the duplex, which would be used to help hold residents accountable and prevent break-ins.
In addition to providing housing, the department has helped those transitioning from prison with obtaining employment; clothing for job interviews; driver’s licenses or identification cards; and GED diplomas.
Presley also reported that there could be a significant decrease in Justice Reinvestment Grant funding, but said it’s “still workable.”
She added that the department implemented tracking bracelets, and they are working well.
“We’re using them on the people that are absconding and also the people that are high-risk sex offenders,” she explained. “We’re planning to hopefully grow that program, too.”
The court agreed to sign an order in the matter of conveying property not needed for public use to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center.
During the county court meeting on May 3, Runnels explained that the county acquired the property (which is located on East Monroe Street) through foreclosure. The goal is to create a habitable rental property that would be managed by a limited liability company that is being established by the Senior Center.
The court also adopted Resolution 2017-09 in the matter of amending Resolution 2001-15 and adopting policies for the sale of county-owned land.
Runnels explained that the previous land sale policy failed to consider properties that are in poor condition or have failing structures. The amendment allows for a reduced minimum bid amount, but, before the deed is transfered, the winning bidder will be required to remove all existing, failing structures identified by the county within 60 days of acquiring the property.
“This is an attempt to clean up these lots and dilapidated, foreclosed upon homes that are just eyesores or being lived in when they shouldn’t be,” Runnels said.
The court held a public hearing regarding the transfer of mineral rights from the county to Tyler and Enna Kaady.
When the county obtains a property through foreclosure, it retains the mineral rights when the property is sold to new owners. However, the new property owners can go through a process to obtain those rights.
As part of the process, a qualified geologist conducted an investigation of the property and determined that the rights are of little or doubtful value. However, the county set a minimum value of $300 for the rights.
There weren’t any objections, and the court agreed to sign an order in the matter of transferring mineral rights to the Kaadys.
In other business, the court:
• revisited its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County.
Hines City Administrator Judy Erwin said local insurance agents are often able to provide flood insurance at much lower rates than the National Flood Insurance Program.
The next meeting regarding flood issues will be held Aug. 15 at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse;
• was addressed by Tim Smith during the public comment period.
Smith provided written comments regarding the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and thanked the court and Harney County Planning Commissions for their work on this project;
• received an updated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) schedule from Holly Orr of the Burns District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM);
• received an application for an approach off of Lawen Road. The court agreed to table the application so that Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella can review it;
• reviewed water use requests;
• received correspondence from the Oregon Department of Forestry regarding fire suppression costs;
• received correspondence from the Vale District of the BLM regarding the causal factor analysis report for the Greater Sage-Grouse Trout Creeks Priority Area for Conservation;
• learned from Runnels that Administrative Assistant Sharon Johnson will retire at the end of the month;
• learned from Runnels that he will attend the Association of Oregon Counties meetings Aug. 13-14;
• learned from Runnels that Rep. Cliff Bentz will attend the county court meeting on Sept. 6 to provide a legislative briefing.
The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse.