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County payments moving forward

Last fiscal year, Hood River County received $713,038 to spend in support of schools and roads, as part of the Federal Secure Rural Schools program — a program slated to terminate this year.

According to Budget Director Sandra Borowy, the county “had not planned on receiving any renewal of that funding” for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2012, and ends June 30, 2013.

On June 28, 2012, the House and Senate leadership, however, reached agreement on a long-term transportation reauthorization bill that has opened the door for one final year of SRS program funding for Hood River. The SRS program was included on that bill as a one-year extension.

The final agreement as included in the larger transportation bill has passed both chambers and now must await President Obama’s signature.

The program has been funding county outlays for public schools, road improvement and maintenance projects, and forest restoration and improvement projects. It has been offered to communities in and around National Forests. Oregon will receive an estimated $100 million in this last round renewal.

The bill also clarifies that funds for eligible Title III projects, like Hood River County, must be obligated by the end of the following fiscal year but not necessarily initiated. That is standard language from past funding that allows some flexibility in when the funds are actually expended.

“Funding would give lifeline to rural counties and breathing room for efforts to craft long-term jobs solutions to provide local services and create jobs,” stated U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in a press release.

“This one-year extension gives us the breathing room we need to continue our bipartisan and delegation-wide work toward a long-term solution that brings jobs back into the forests to create revenues that keep essential local services like schools and law enforcement afloat,” Walden said.

The funding, at about $346 million nationwide for one year, will provide Hood River a reduced amount from last year’s allocation. Total figures are yet to be determined.

“I have consistently said we need a period of short-term bridge funding to sustain our rural communities until a long-term solution takes effect,” Walden stated. “Some counties are already facing extreme budget challenges ... The federal government, which owns the lion’s share of land in our rural forested communities, must be a better neighbor.”

Also within the approved bill, Senate language extends, by one year through fiscal year 2013, full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

While not part of Hood River County’s revenue stream, that program provides federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal land within their boundaries and has been critical in several other counties in Oregon.

With the new extension in place for both programs, members of Congress are turning their attention to creating solutions for counties impacted by cutbacks on logging within national forests.

The federal government has held a longstanding practice of sharing a portion of the federal logging income with counties from where timber had been extracted.

“This one-year lifeline is a bridge, not a solution. I will forge ahead with bipartisan work with Reps. DeFazio and Schrader and the Natural Resource Committee to change federal forest policies so we can get Oregonians back to work in the woods,” Walden said.

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