By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Four U.S. Senators from Oregon and Idaho recently reintroduced legislation to make federal Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding permanent.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley, (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) reintroduced the legislation May 23 to provide much-needed financial certainty for rural counties and to ensure they have long-term funding for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and other essential services, according to a statement by their offices.

Curry County Commission Chair Chris Paasch said the SRS money “is imperative to keep this county going.”

Commissioner Sue Gold said she supported Merkley and Wyden in their attempt to provide the county a more stable source of income.

The Forest Management for Rural Stability Act was first introduced in December 2018 and would make the SRS program — which expired at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 — permanent by creating an endowment fund to provide for county services.

“This is a matter of making sure Oregonians living and working in rural counties have the financial certainty they need and deserve,” Wyden said. “It’s time to put an end to the financial roller coaster in forested counties in Oregon and permanently invest in our teachers, law enforcement officers, bridges and roads.”

The SRS program provides assistance to rural counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal lands. Historically, rural communities and schools relied on a share of receipts from timber harvests to supplement local funding for education services and roads, according to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The original Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands, and Wyden, Crapo, Merkley and Risch have worked to make it permanent since then.

“I fully support this bill. The stable funding it provides will help keep my county in business and allow us to focus more on forest management issues,” Commissioner Court Boice said. “We must have stable funding before we can give full attention to management problems contributing to the catastrophic wildfires that plague us almost every summer.”

SRS has provided a total of $7 billion in payments to more than 700 counties and 4,400 school districts in more than 40 states, according to government documents.

“One of Oregon’s many treasures is our vast swaths of public lands,” Merkley said. “Since they’re not part of the local tax base, the counties that contain those lands deserve permanent, consistent support from the federal government.

According to Merkley’s State Communications Director Sara Hottman, Curry County received about $1.7 million last year from SRS and received an additional 6.2 percent or about $105,000 when additional sequestered money was released in May.

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