Thursday, December 05, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
The amount of money Polk County has received from the federal timber payment program has steadily declined. An unexpected one-year extension was just announced.
October 01, 2013
POLK COUNTY -- A one-year extension of the federal timber payment program Secure Rural Schools (SRS) is just President Obama's signature away from becoming law.
County officials hope that news of the extension won't have a negative impact on their attempt to pass a longer-term solution -- a public safety levy that voters will decide on during November's general election.
Sheriff Bob Wolfe said the timing for the extension couldn't be worse as elected county officials and levy supporters try to make a case for the four-year, 60 cents per $1,000 tax levy.
The county just released results of a poll showing nearly 60 percent of voters support the measure, however that survey was taken before last week's vote. Wolfe has already had people ask whether the levy was needed now that the timber payments have been renewed.
His answer? "Yes."
"This is not a fix to the problem," Wolfe said. "It's simply a Band-Aid."
He also noted the majority of the payment would likely be spent in the current budget, not in the 2014-15 budget, when the levy is slated to take effect if it passes.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the extension on Sept. 25 on an unanimous vote. The Senate already approved similar legislation Sept. 19, embedded in a bill that prevented the closure of the federal helium reserve.
The extension will send $100 million to 33 counties in Oregon, which amounts to about 5 percent less than last year's payments.
Polk County Administrator Greg Hansen estimated Polk County's share would be between $705,000 and $783,000, depending on if automatic cuts due to sequestration have an impact. Hansen and the Polk County Commissioners have yet to discuss what the funding will be used for. However, it could help jump start hiring if the county's public safety levy is successful.
Members of Oregon's congressional delegation applauded the approval, but also stressed longer term solutions were needed.
"This legislation enables us to fund vital Secure Rural School payments to keep struggling rural counties afloat and reduce the federal deficit," Rep. Peter DeFazio said after the House vote Sept. 25.
DeFazio called the extension "transition payments" meant to buy time for congressional action on a permanent solution. He and fellow Oregon representatives Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden have proposed a long-term plan involving Oregon's O&C lands and Sen. Ron Wyden is set to reveal a plan of his own later this fall.
While considerable time and effort has been put into crafting proposed solutions, counties have heard about "long term" solutions before.
First approved in 2000 as a temporary replacement for reduced federal timber revenue, SRS payments have been steadily declining and have had to be renewed since expiring in 2006. This is the fourth extension and the second in a row that is just for one year.
That doesn't allow for the predictability county agencies need for long-term planning, Wolfe said.
"This is extremely frustrating," Wolfe said. "We can't keep living year-to-year on this hope and promise."
That was one of the reasons the county -- and others across the state -- have proposed their own funding plans.
Polk's levy on the November ballot is proposing to restore public safety service to the level it was before payments began to decline. In order to do that, the levy would need to collect about $3 million per year. The one-time influx of cash does not offset the need for the levy, Wolfe said.
If the program is extended again in future years, the county would lower the amount it levied to account for the additional cash, he added.
"That (the payment) will help, but it's not the answer," Wolfe said. "It's not the fix we need."