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County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

Lane County will spend up to $250,000 this year publicizing its tight financial picture, in hopes that voters in November will approve higher taxes for public-safety services.

It's an amount for county spending on publicity that has been unparalleled in at least the past 10 years. And it illustrates the seriousness of the effort to persuade voters to approve a county income tax for public safety.

Still, the irony of spending big to publicize the county's frugal ways was troubling for Commissioner Bill Dwyer, board chairman, who nonetheless joined in the unanimous approval of the amount Wednesday.

"We got our hand out (for more money) on one hand, and we're spending money with the other," Dwyer said. "That's a dilemma that we face."

The commissioners hope that an intense, 10-month public-information campaign that hits media, the general public, the county's own workers and specific groups will convince people that they're getting a lot of county services for their money. That could encourage support for the county-wide income tax, which would generate $70 million annually to fund current and additional public safety services.

But officials must be careful not to spend money advocating for the income tax, as that would violate a state law that governs how public money can be spent on campaigns, county attorney Terry Wilson said.

The commissioners can spend public money on some things they believe are in the county's best interest, including support for legislation or efforts to win federal money, Wilson said.

However, she added, even though the commissioners believe that the income tax for public safety is in the county's interest, they can't spend money advocating for it because it's tied to a vote of the people, some of whom may oppose the tax, and therefore the promotional spending.

The commissioners are expected, later this year, to approve a personal-income tax for public safety that would take effect if voters in November agree to change the Lane County charter.

The individual commissioners can - and will - advocate for the tax, but Dwyer said money will be spent ensuring only that voters are educated about county services and funding when they vote on the tax plan.

"So they have enough information to be able to judge the severity of the problem," he said. "Whether they vote for it or not, they can make up their own mind."

Voters have rejected 11 straight county public safety measures since 1996.

Commissioners want to make sure that voters who object to county spending also understand the services that the county provides and the amount of money it takes to provide them.

County officials appear unanimous in the belief that residents don't realize the wide array of county services or how they're funded. Callers routinely misunderstand how property-tax revenue can be spent and have even mistaken county workers for employees of the city of Eugene, officials said.

"The county needs to communicate on a higher level with its citizens," county spokeswoman Melinda Kletzok said.

Kletzok, the county's public information officer, will be the point person for a campaign to explain county services and funding. It will include newspaper, radio and TV advertising; news releases; an increased Web site presence; a video; numerous printed materials; and meetings with groups ranging from Neighborhood Watch to chambers of commerce, she said.

Supervisors from each county department have promised to contribute a total of up to $200,000 from their budgets to the campaign.

Another $50,000 is set aside in Kletzok's budget.

Since the creation of the public information job in 1996, Kletzok has never had more than $30,000 a year - and much less in recent years - for advertising and publicity, budget manager David Garnick said.
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 26, 2006
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