Government shutdown: County declares wage emergency

Tillamook County Courthouse

Tillamook County has declared a wage emergency for certain federal employees who are affected by the more than a month-long partial government shutdown.

Cody Mann
[email protected]

County Commissioners unanimously voted on a resolution on Wednesday, Jan. 23, asking local retailers, landlords, financial institutions and other businesses to extend credit and/or waive late fees to those federal employees who aren’t being paid as the shutdown drags on.

Resolution R-19-001, drafted by Commissioner Bill Baertlein, was formally presented during the Board of Commissioners meeting by Emergency Management Director Lt. Gordon McCraw.

“I present this because one, it is an emergency declaration of sorts, and two, I am a retired Navy Chief and have been in their shoes,” McCraw said. He pointed out that because the U.S. Coast Guard falls under Homeland Security they are not being paid during the shutdown.

“Our Garibaldi sailors continue to perform rescue missions in our area, even in dangerous and severe conditions, but they will not receive a paycheck to support their families until the current budget issue is resolved,” McCraw said.

McCraw said the manager of the Port of Garibaldi, former Coast Guard Master Chief Mike Saindon, has been busy distributing food to the Coast Guardsmen and their families, and thanked the community and the local businesses for the support. He said the Coast Guard Station in Garibaldi could not accept donations directly, so anyone wishing to donate should contact the Port.

A draft of the resolution requests that Tillamook citizens provide as much support as possible to the affected federal employees in the community by “lending a hand and compassion as needed,” including preparing meals, babysitting and donating to the local food pantries.

“Tillamook County is a small, tight-knit community that takes pride in uniting and supporting each other in a time of crisis,” the resolution draft states.

The resolution draft heralds the active presence of such federal agencies in Tillamook County as the Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Coast Guard), the Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service), and the Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The federal employees that are continuing to work without pay are putting their lives at risk every day in dangerous conditions to protect our county’s fishing, forest, and farming industries, which are critical to our local economy,” the resolution draft states. “These federal employees are woven into the fabric of our community, and they are or will soon be struggling to pay for housing, transportation, food, medications and other living expenses.”

The resolution draft states that Tillamook County is concerned that undue financial and emotional stress from uncertainty poses an imminent threat to public health, safety and welfare. It also calls out the federal government for abdicating its payroll responsibility for “nebulous political gain.”

Speaking prior to the meeting, Baertlein highlighted the example of the local Coast Guard station whose necessary vigilance was on display during a recent tragedy at sea that left three dead when a crabbing boat capsized. Baertlein said with so many boats in the water during the height of crabbing season, Coast Guardsmen shouldn’t be distracted by financial concerns.

“This, to me, is a public safety concern,” Baertlein said. He urged the public to support food banks, and also asked for businesses to consider extending credit to the families of federal employees. Even simply cooking a meal for a neighbor could relieve stress for those going unpaid.

Baertlein said at the county level, collaboration and cooperation is essential to a functioning government. He said the higher up you go the farther separated from the people the government becomes.

The disconnect between people living paycheck-to-paycheck and federal politicians seems apparent when looking upwards. Baertlein said there was plenty of blame to go around, calling for both sides to work it out.

“For Congress to walk away and say ‘we’re not going to do anything because the president is going to veto it,’ that’s not working,” Baertlein said. “We’re paying them to make a decision.”