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Timber Payments’ Phaseout Causing Problems


The word *lifeline* seems to come up whenever you talk about county timber payments. From paying for schools to roads to even our forests, Oregon counties rely on the money.

The federal timber payment program, or the Secure Rural Schools Program, started in 2008 as a way to replace revenue counties used to get from the sale of timber on government land.

Just last week, the U.S. Senate voted to renew the payments for one more year, sending the issue to the House.

“One more year is not enough,” Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren said Monday. “It takes longer than that to get mills on board. To get the process through the Forest Service level to know what possibly can be a sustainable yield.”

About $346 million will be paid out to counties nationwide.

In Oregon, $102 million is divvied up among 33 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

This year, Crook County would receive around $2 million. Deschutes County $1.8 million and Jefferson County $550,000.

And every year, the amount seems to go down.

Even if Congress passes the extension, the money paid to counties will be cut by 5 percent, potentially impacting roads, schools and law enforcement.

Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger said, “If we don’t have this money to help with our road maintenance and with our forester and a lot of the good things we are doing in rural communities, we will either have to cut back or find other funding sources. It will just be a greater challenge for us.”

Sen. Ron Wyden couldn’t talk to us Monday because he was traveling, but he told our sister station KGW Sunday the House now needs to step up.

“If the House of Representatives doesn’t do its job, what this means for Oregon is less law enforcement, reduced road maintenance and fewer quality teachers in our classroom,” Wyden said.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said after the Senate vote, ?I?m delighted that the Senate has attached a one-year county payments extension to the larger transportation package.”

“I have commitments from the highest levels in the House to fund a short-term extension of county payments, and whether it?s in this transportation bill or some other vehicle, we intend to get it done,? Walden said.

Unger says the payments are just a fraction of what the county uses for funding; most of the county’s money comes from property taxes. But he says any amount helps.

“Whether it’s the trees and the trails and the mountains and the water,” Unger said. “All the natural resources we have we can do a better job managing those if the federal government if they helped support it.”

The need is more critical on the coast and in the Valley, where there is even more federal forests and very little private land.

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