“Right now we have… maybe 700 counties that are now included in the pot for what used to be the 18 original O&C counties,” said Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association President Dave Schott.
Seven or eight years ago that slice used to be around $20 million a year. But Schott says that in order to encourage the federal government to keep issuing money, lawmakers had to allow more and more counties to get on board.
Now the $6 million being carved out for Jackson County is consistent with the past few years — barely enough to scrape by.
“It’s really not going to make any difference from last year in providing stable funding for our libraries or long term dollars for anything,” said Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal. “We don’t even know for sure how much we’re going to get for next year.”
Of this year’s funds, $4.6 million will go to the county general fund — supporting a variety of projects, but most notably libraries and law enforcement. Another $1.4 million will go to county roads.
County commissioners say one of the big problems, as they plan their budget, is that those funds are up for renewal each year.
“You always are sitting there wondering what program is going to get cut,” said Breidenthal. “The real solution here isn’t to rely on [Secure Rural Schools] payments. The real solution is to get back out into the woods and manage our natural resources.”
Three timber bills sponsored by a handful lawmakers in Oregon are trying to do just that–find a management solution.
In the meantime, industry experts say the clock is ticking until timber payments run out entirely.
“A lot of people perceive it to be a bailout,” said Schott. “It’s really hard to get that kind of measure passed.”