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Obama signs bill including federal funds for county

GOLD BEACH – Curry County Commission Chair David Itzen said Tuesday that President Obama has signed the bill containing a temporary extension of the Secure Rural Schools Payments, but he doesn’t know exactly how much the county will receive or when it will get here.

“I understand the president has signed the transportation bill. It was signed Friday,” Itzen said. “Rocky (McVay, executive director of the O&C Association) still expects the money to arrive in October or November, but past practices it’s more likely December or January.”

That payment was only a fraction of what the county had been receiving in the timber payments.

Itzen said a decision has not been made on what the county will do with that money.

“My preference would be to put it aside,” he said. “A decision will have to be made by the full board when we convene again.”

Itzen said the next scheduled commissioners’ meeting is July 11.

“I think it will be on a later agenda – the 25th or when the rest of the board would like to deal with it. It may be the board will want to discuss it on the 11th. It’s not part of the agenda, but it could be added,” he said.

The commissioners last week approved a budget worked out by the county’s Budget Committee that takes $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013.

But they say the county can not function after that without another source of revenue. Taxes and fees collected for the county’s general fund amount to about $2.1 million a year, and they say the county needs about $5 million in income to provide necessary services.

Itzen said there may be some question about how much Curry County will receive out of the $100 million coming to Oregon from that one-time payment, although the $1 million is expected.

“It depends. We’ve got some research to do there. There may be some money we don’t get because we get this. The net sum may be significantly less than a million. We’re working on determining whether that is the case,” Itzen said.

“In the past when we had extensions of money like this, sometimes because we got the extension of one, we didn’t get something else. We don’t know as yet whether that will be the case here. We can’t tell for sure if we’ll have a net of a million at this point,” Itzen said.

Itzen said when he met with County Accountant Gary Short Tuesday morning, that question was still a little murky.

“We’re hoping that all three commissioners will be here for the meeting the 11th. It may be a little early. We may not have an answer by then,” Itzen said.

“Our budget for 2013-14 will be facing a massive shortfall of revenue, even after the receipt of this money. There will be some significant decisions for the new board coming in,” he said.

Itzen is the only current commissioner scheduled to be on the board effective next January. Both commissioners George Rhodes and Bill Waddle were defeated in the May primary election. Susan Brown and Greg Empson are vying for one commission seat in the November general election while former Commissioner Lucie La Bonté and David Brock Smith will face off for the other seat.

“There will be some significant decisions for the new board coming in,” Itzen said.

Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden got the inclusion of federal forest payments in the transportation package Congress approved last week before going home for a week-long Fourth of July recess. Senator Ron Wyden managed to get the reauthorization included in the Senate version of the transportation bill in March. 

A House - Senate conference committee kept it in the final package. DeFazio is a member of that conference committee along with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenhauer. Walden worked with the Republican leadership to secure the reauthorization.

Itzen said that while the payment does not cover the county’s needs, it is appreciated.

“The federal government owns 66 percent of our county, the state another 1 percent. That’s really the problem.”

In announcing that the temporary extension of Secure Rural Schools Payments was included in the final surface transportation conference bill, DeFazio said he and his colleagues had fought for two years to include that extension for Oregon counties.

“Recent county budget cuts have forced painful layoffs, eliminated jail beds releasing inmates early, and limited county sheriffs’ ability to respond to rural emergencies. This temporary extension will provide much needed breathing room for forested communities in Oregon that are quickly approaching financial disaster,” DeFazio said.

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