Lack of timber payments felt around the Northwest

2012-04-27 Ashley Bach

The effort to extend congressional payments to timber-dependent counties in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Montana continues, but in many of the states, the damage is already done.

A bill to extend the payments for one year is still stuck in the House, and there is some speculation that Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., being appointed to a committee considering the timber payment bill may help its chances. That won’t help matters, though, for the timber-dependent counties in the short term.

Even if the extension gets approved, most of the timber counties will have to slash their budgets for the next year. The extension does not provide nearly as much money in previous years, and there has already been a delay since the last payments. The counties are facing the fact that their financial reality will be leaner, and likely for good.

Oregon counties are among the worst hit because the state received far more congressional money than other states. Lane County, which includes the city of Eugene, was impacted because it received some of the largest timber payments and has a higher demand for county services.

Local officials are beginning to rethink the function of government, Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken told KMTR TV:

“Just because government has been doing the same thing and has for the last 20 years, doesn’t mean it has to provide that same model over and over again.  Especially if you don’t have the money to do it,” he said.

Leiken said he knows there are smart people out there that will come up with ways to do things under such a limited budget.

“If you don’t have the money, you can’t just tell people yes we will do it,” he told NewsSource 16.

For that reason, lots of services are disappearing or being cut in the next month.  A lot of work is expected to be backlogged and response times will likely be delayed.  Lane County has plans to shift some of its services online, including felony crime reports to the Sheriff’s Office and potentially some of its taxation services.  This could mean more frustration and difficulty to those who don’t necessarily know how to use a computer.

Lane County has resigned itself to the fact that voters won’t approve any new taxes. But in Southern Oregon, Josephine County is putting a tax levy on the May 15 ballot and Curry County is considering a sales tax measure later this year.

Meanwhile, Jackson County, which includes the city of Medford, is doing better because of better planning. Not that the impact of the cuts wasn’t still severe.

While (Jackson County) has to trim the sheriff and district attorney’s offices, it will be fine without $4 million in federal timber money, said Commissioner C.W. Smith. Anticipating the timber money would not last forever, the county started six years ago cutting 25 percent out of the budget and putting cash into reserves. It had an advantage over Josephine and Curry counties by having a higher base tax rate.

“I was sheriff (in 1983) when we went from 43 road deputies to seven,” said Smith. “I remember how chaotic that was. I said, ‘Let’s do this a little differently.’”