PRESIDENT SIGNS BILL THAT MAY BRING MILLIONS TO CURRY COUNTY
October 31, 2000 11:00 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. A bill that could double federal payments to Oregons timber counties was signed into law by the president Monday in a White House ceremony.

Curry County could gain up to $3.5 million a year from the bill for five years.

However, Commissioner Bill Roberts said he has been told that the first checks may take up to a year to arrive.

He said he should find out exactly what the county will get and how it will be split when he attends the next meeting of the Association of O & C Counties.

Even so, Roberts is thinking of calling the Curry County Budget Committee together to start planning for the additional funds.

Im very happy, said Roberts of the bills signing. Now we have to start planning for the future.

Weve got to be very conservative, he said. It will only last so long. We need to look at infrastructure first.

He warned that many state measures currently being voted on could cut state funds to the county by more than the federal bill would add.

If all goes well with the state vote, Roberts would like to use some of the money to repair the animal shelter, fair buildings and courthouse.

He said people are also urging the county to put the money into savings and use only the interest for projects.

The Senates version of the bill was co-authored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, helped pass the House version, while Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., served as a mediator several times when the bill was blocked in the Senate.

DeFazio, who was present at the Oval Office ceremony, said, This is a great day for Oregonians.

Finally, he said, Annual federal payments to counties, set at historically high rates, has become the law of the land.

With the $260 million in this bill, Oregon counties will be able to reinstate vital county services, previously cut because of a reduction in the federal timber harvest.

Smith, who also attended the signing ceremony, said, This bill will fulfill the federal governments compact with our local governments and reestablish payment levels for the education and road needs of rural Oregonians.

The bill could mean up to $900,000 more a year for five years for Curry Countys general fund, and a like amount for its road fund.

Smiths office said the bill would also benefit 179 Oregon school districts serving more than 500,000 students.

Those benefits will only be seen, however, if the state legislature changes Oregons school funding laws.

As the laws stand now, said a financial official from the Oregon Department of Education, the additional federal funds will be offset by reductions from the state, resulting in no net gain for any local school district.

Wyden addressed the problem by adding language to the bill stating the purpose of the funding is to stabilize payments to counties to provide funding for schools and roads that supplements other available funds.

The bills official name is the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

Wyden said Monday, Now that the president has signed this critical bill, I am calling on our legislators in Salem to see to it that this money makes its way to the rural schools it was intended for.

Sen. Craig and I didnt work this hard for rural schools to see the money become a slush fund for unrelated purposes.

Wyden has contacted legislative leaders and the governors office to offer his assistance in making sure the bill supplements, and does not supplant, current education funding.

This law is a victory for children and families throughout rural America, said Wyden.

Throughout this long process, I have led with the belief that we cannot let our rural communities be turned into sacrifice zones as a result of federal policies, he said, No community, no matter how small, should be forgotten.

The Curry County commissioners have also said they will pressure the governor and legislature to give the money to the schools as added revenue.

Roberts said an attorney with the Association of O & C Counties told him the legislature might back a plan to give the money directly to counties to be used specifically for school maintenance and building projects.

Curry Countys share could be about $1 million a year, and the county already has a school fund set up to accept it.

One of the greatest controversies over the bill was whether or not to decouple federal payments from timber receipts.

Timber counties wanted stable funding, but not all county commissioners wanted to sever traditional ties with the land.

Under the terms of the bill, payments will no longer be tied to timber receipts, but will come from the general treasury.

The bill also sets aside 15-20 percent of the money for forest-related cooperative projects, which will give communities a more direct role in managing national forests. To be funded, the projects must encourage stewardship and forest health, maintenance of forest infrastructure, or ecosystem restoration.