MCCOG makes drastic cuts

Facing $1 million deficit, regional service agency reduces staff

Last Friday the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments began preparing for a major budget hit by either laying off or reducing the hours of 10 employees.

That move was made after MCCOG calculated a $935,607 deficit in its operating capital for fiscal year 2003-04, a reduction of 21 percent. MCCOG’s most recent staffing reduction is expected to shave off $425,280 of that deficit. However, it follows the loss of three staffers last year and is anticipated to bring across-the-board service and program cuts. MCCOG channels state and federal grant dollars to Hood River, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco and Wheeler counties. These funds are used in five program areas, including retraining of dislocated workers, teaching job skills to disadvantaged youth, and providing transportation, meals, and home care to senior citizens.

“We’re trying to figure out what we are going to do, we’re going to have to redesign our service delivery to match our remaining personnel,” said John Arens, MCCOG executive director.

He said the MCCOG board of directors had hoped to offset any further loss of funding earlier this year by increasing the dues of each member county. That fee increased from 35 cents for each resident to $1 and generated about $49,500 in revenue that is being used for Area Agency on Aging programs and a limited supply of working capital.

However, Arens said MCCOG’s budget crisis couldn’t be avoided because of tough economic times at the state and federal levels. He said the agency operates on revenue from 60 separate grant streams and some of these funding sources have been tapped out.

Arens said an irony of MCCOG’s current financial plight is that it was forced to lay off its part-time grant writer last winter — just when the need to scout out additional public and private dollars was becoming critical. He and three other remaining department heads will now tackle that task in addition to overseeing about 50 remaining employees.

“We are a grant-driven entity but we need to diversify our resources somehow,” Arens said.

That challenge is complex because MCCOG’s grant funds have to be kept in dedicated programs and can’t be moved into an area of need, according to Arens. However, Arens said MCCOG can contract with local governments for provision of services that then recoup an administrative fee. The agency has also established the Four Rivers Community Corporation, which allows it to receive charitable donations. Arens said that citizens can call 1-888-316-1362 to set up a tax-deductible contribution to the MCCOG program and location of their choice.

He said MCCOG’s budget committee and management have begun investigating all of the available options to retain as many programs as possible. A staff meeting to begin discussions on a redesign of the service delivery system will take place on July 3, just two days after the new budget goes into effect.

“This will be a huge undertaking. For this to be successful we will need the entire agency to be proactive in this whole process,” wrote Arens in a May 30 memo to the remaining employees.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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