EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- There is new hope for financial help for Lane County and several other Oregon counties as federal lawmakers are now considering another extension of timber payments for one year.
The possible timber payment extension is coming out of the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support so far, but it is not a done deal yet.
U.S. Senators voted 82 to 16 on Thursday, March 8th, 2012, to amend a “must-pass” U.S. transportation budget bill, extending the “Secure Rural Schools & Communities Act,” or timber payments for an additional year.
The bill is still a ways from passing, but the amendment is the “first step” according to lawmakers.
The U.S. Senate now has to vote on the amended version of the transportation bill with the timber payment addition. If it passes, the bill will go to the U.S. House and finally, President Obama.
Timber payments began in Oregon more than a decade ago as the U.S. Federal Government curtailed logging on forest lands called “O&C Lands,” which are owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM.) Logging was curtailed on the land due to concerns over animal habitat, including habitat for the spotted owl. In exchange for Oregon's loss in logging tax revenue, the Federal Government offered a yearly payment in varying amounts to virtually all Oregon counties.
As it stands now, county timber payments are set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2012, or June 30th, 2012.
The loss in timber payments has hit several Oregon counties extremely hard, including Lane County.
Passing any deal to extend timber payment though could be major help from Lane County, as it is facing a 15 million dollar budget deficit in its general fund.
While the bill would not fill Lane County's budget gap, it would help.
“This bill, again, if it sticks, could bring about 4 and a half million dollars back to the county,” says Alex Cuyler, the Intergovernmental Relations Manager for Lane County.
Cuyler works with different lawmakers on legislation that affects Lane County.
The 4.5 million dollars would be money for the general fund. The general fund is where many county services including the Sheriff's Office, the jail, and the District Attorney's office get their funding from. Other monies not included in that dollar amount would go to Lane County roads and rural schools.
The total timber payment would be down 5% from the previous year, and down 45% from 2008. In 2008, Lane County received a total payment of more than 46.7 million dollars. More than 13.5 million dollars of that money was available for general fund uses.
He says while the extension is important, the work continues to find new revenue sources for Lane County.
“It doesn't necessarily doesn't do a great job of putting people to work in the community and so, I think that's one of the things that the Board of County Commissioners really has been struggling with is that they would like to see us return to the resource management days when we actually had employment lands in Lane County that were creating jobs and prosperity that way,” says Cuyler.
There are some other ways Lane County is researching and talking about in terms of how to better fund services in the future. Ideas include special tax districts, local levies, even looking at how Curry County voters will react to a proposed retail sales tax. Cuyler says some counties have even spun off their owns businesses as a way to try to generate new revenue.
For an idea of just how dire the budget picture is for Lane County and its varying services this year, several county leaders recently submitted letters to state officials about their concerns.
To view letters from the Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office and the County Board of Commissioners, click the various labeled links towards the top of this article.