In a rare display of bipartisanship at the national level, Oregon's congressional delegation along with Gov. John Kitzhaber have agreed on legislation that would extend federal payments to Oregon's beleaguered timber counties for another five years.
The Secure Rural Schools Act program, known informally as "County Payments," will run out in December if not renewed, as the program technically expired Sept. 30.
Hood River County received around $2 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Of that, around $1.4 million went to the county roads fund, around $500,000 went to Hood River County School District and $150,000 to county sheriff search and rescue operations.
The legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate next week and would authorize the payments for five more years with an annual reduction of 5 percent over the prior year's funding.
As Ben McCarty reports on page A1, "While the money has been dwindling, it still remains a key funding source for the many Oregon counties that have substantial amounts of forest land owned by the federal government within their boundaries."
County Budget Director Sandra Borowy noted that without the payments the 2012-13 county budget for roads "would be a big fat blank line and we would have to start tapping into our reserves."
What's encouraging is that Rep. Greg Walden is on board. As author of the original bill, and a Republican, he appears motivated and equipped to help marshal this current funding request through the many tight squeezes in the federal budget maze.
This is a true case of a group of five public servants seeing a need and coming together to serve it. Any "letter to your congressman" this week might be one of thanks for their collaborative efforts for the program.
Legislators could also use some suggestions on what things state, federal and local authorities might do to forestall putting "county payments" on the brink in the future.