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Bill aiding timber counties advances

SALEM — A bill aiming to help cash-strapped timber counties sailed through the Senate Wednesday. 

House Bill 2206 would allow the state to take over some of the county’s duties, such as collecting taxes and election-related obligations, in the event the counties can no longer afford to do so.  

The measure now heads back to the House for a concurrent vote. 

Also wending its way through the final days of the session is House Bill 3453, which will allow the governor to restructure staffing in O&C counties that are in financial dire straits since federal timber payments ended.

Several amendments have been made to the bill, which is currently in the Construction Committee of the House Ways and Means Committee.

If it approved there — which most involved believe will happen — it will go to the House and Senate for a concurrent vote.

Pushing for House Bill 2206, the governor urged lawmakers this session to extend a lifeline to some of the struggling timber counties, which have relied on diminishing federal timber subsidies.

Curry and Josephine counties are among the two hardest-hit counties. 

Public safety budgets in both counties have been slashed, and they have cut the number of patrol officers and released inmates early. 

“The governor looks forward to signing HB 2206,” said Tim Raphael, the governor’s spokesman. 

The measure provoked no discussion on the Senate floor.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who introduced the measure, said the bill is necessary.

“We need this bill because of our decision of (how to manage) natural resources in the state of Oregon,” he said, alluding to timber counties being prevented from logging the land by state and federal restrictions. 

Curry County, which has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, in May asked voters to help fill a gap in the county’s budget that stems from declining federal timber subsidies. Voters did not approve the measure, which would have raised about $4.5 million in the first year. A similar measure went down in neighboring Josephine County.

Federal lawmakers are pushing to extend the subsidies to timber counties for one more year. 

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