The Association of O&C Counties (AOCC) expressed support for the bi-partisan, long-term county funding bill introduced by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Crapo (R-ID). “This is a big step forward. We are grateful to Senator Wyden for taking the lead and proposing this important measure” said Tim Freeman, Douglas County Commissioner and President of AOCC. The bill if passed would guarantee funding for nearly 700 counties in 42 states at no less than the amount received under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) for FY 2017, adjusted upward to account for inflation each year into the future.
SRS has been an on again, off again law since 2000, with multiple ending dates and reauthorizations over the last 18 years. SRS payments have also been shrinking, getting smaller with each short-term reauthorization. The uncertainty created by almost constant congressional haggling over SRS renewals has been particularly hard on county budgeting processes. “The payment levels under this bill would not equal levels historically received from shared timber receipts, but the predictability and certainty this bill would produce would really help counties facing hard budget choices,” Freeman said.
“This is a county funding bill, and helping stabilize county funding is critical,” said Commissioner Freeman. “Our communities need three things—stabilized funding to support adequate county services, improved forest management for the health of the forest and the environment, and a vibrant timber industry to provide jobs and the wood products we all use. Senator Wyden’s bill would secure the first of the legs under this three-legged stool.”
Along with a very large initial appropriation from the US Treasury, the bill would direct the counties’ share of timber harvest receipts into an endowment fund that would be invested for growth and income by financial professionals. Counties would receive payments from the fund’s earnings, and the payments would grow as timber receipts deposits increased.
Commissioner Craig Pope of Polk County, AOCC’s Secretary/Treasurer, spoke up in support of Senator Wyden’s bill and was particularly supportive of the bill’s continued linkage between timber receipts and future endowment fund payments. “The two Senators and their staffs have worked tirelessly for many months on this bill and the results have been worth the effort–this bill would help solve one of the problems we have struggled with for over 20 years. At the same time, it maintains ties between counties and the federal forests within county borders. Maintaining the connection between counties and forest management is an important element of this bill,” said Commissioner Pope.
AOCC Vice President, Commissioner Simon Hare from Josephine County, also expressed support for the bill. “This is not a substitute for a bill that improves the management of federal forest lands, but it is a necessary bill just the same,” said Commissioner Hare. “Our forests are literally going up in smoke every summer and we desperately need legislation that addresses both forest health and jobs in the timber industry. Senator Wyden’s county funding bill will help keep counties in business while we all continue to work on the related issues of forest health and jobs in the woods.”
Passage of the bill introduced by Senators Wyden and Crapo will be a heavy lift politically, due primarily to the up-front cost. The initial appropriation to the endowment fund the bill would create is not stated in the bill but would likely be between $7.0 and $8.0 billion. Commissioner Freeman acknowledged the work ahead but expressed optimism regarding the outcome: “Passage will be an uphill battle, but so long as the bill stays in its current form, Senator Wyden can count on our support to help get it through the legislative process. We are confident he can get it done, especially if he gets help from other members of the Oregon delegation.”
For additional information, contact Rocky McVay, AOCC’s Executive Director, at 541-412-1624, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.