Federal county payments extended

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer September 27, 2013 07:20 pm

Oregon’s 18 O&C counties have a little fiscal wiggle room after Congress this week passed legislation to provide a one-year extension of Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments to counties on the brink of financial disaster.

Rocky McVay, leader of the Association of the O&C Counties, told media that checks are likely to go out in January or February, but much depends on votes regarding the federal budget.

Curry County stands to received $1.07 million of the $100 million headed to Oregon, said County Commissioner David Brock Smith, and provide a much-needed, albeit insufficient, fiscal shot of revenue for county coffers.

“Our current new discretionary resources of only $2.1 million caused the need to spend the reserves to shore up the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget to keep the current inadequate service levels for our citizens,” Smith said. “This additional (SRS) funding will help bridge the gap of having no funds to operate the county, and subsequently lessen the amount needed to be borrowed to do so next year.”

The temporary extension of SRS will provide transition payments to cash-strapped counties to enable them to provide basic services like law enforcement, road maintenance and public health until a long-term solution is implemented, of which HR 1526 could be part.

Legislation regarding the SRS funding passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives Monday and was quickly moved through the Senate Thursday.

It almost didn’t happen, said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D).

“The Senate sent over a bill that required a technical fix because it violated House of Representatives budget rules,” he said. “Luckily, a bipartisan coalition on the House Resources Committee was able to act quickly, fix the problem, pass it out of the House and send it back to the Senate for quick passage.”

It now awaits the signature of President Barack Obama.

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Last Friday, the House passed Resolution 1526, that proposes a method by which to create private sector forestry jobs, provide revenues to O&C counties and permanently protect old growth forests in Oregon. That bill is now awaiting action in the Senate.

“Ultimately, O&C counties need a long-term solution that breaks us out of the decades-long logjam on federal forest policy, puts thousands of Oregonians back to work, improves forest health and protects our environment, and disentangles the health of rural county budgets from these unpredictable and diminishing federal support payments,” DeFazio said.

“The House passed a bipartisan, balanced, long-term solution last week, and today we passed these critical transition payments,” DeFazio said. “I hope the Senate will act quickly to make any necessary changes so the bill can be passed out of that chamber and signed by the president.”