EUGENE, Ore. — An Oregon senator says it’s possible for Lane County to use federal timber payments to help open jail beds back up.
A transportation bill that included federal timber payments officially passed through both Houses Friday.
That means Lane County will get about $10 million.
But there seems to be some confusion about how that money can be spent.
With nearly 100 inmates walking free this week, many residents are glad to hear the county will receive the $10 million.
But there’s a catch. County administrators say only $3.5 million can go to the general fund and be spent on public safety.
The other $6.5 million, the county says, has to go to the road fund.
“We are not allowed to use road funds to fund the jail, and that’s federal law. So that’s not the county deciding that they can’t spend it. It’s when you receive money from a different source. They’re allowed to tell you how to spend it,” said County Budget And Financial Planning Manager Christine Moody.
“The statement that we don’t or we can’t. I don’t buy that. Maybe I’m focusing too much on the word can’t. We can. We have the money if you look around at how we spend our money. The money is there,” said resident Lloyd Madden.
We asked Oregon’s congressional delegates what their response was to that feeling of distrust.
“The $6.5 million that goes to roads, some counties have arranged for that to be transferred into other areas. They’ve done that through the legislature. I can’t speak specifically to Lane County’s strategy,” said Senator Jeff Merkley.
“Where and how those cuts are made are up to the county commissioners, and there is a public process, so the priorities can change,” said Representative Peter DeFazio.
But citizens argue they voted in elected leaders to take care of the public.
“It’s incredible to see how the government reacts. They generally react instead of proact,” said resident John Schnase.
“Creative bookkeeping is used by lots of companies and lots of individuals. The county could really benefit from that, but again, that goes back to them figuring out how to make it work…They just feel like their hands are tied instead of figuring out ways to get that knot out of there and move forward,” said resident Carolyn Schnase.
Lane County residents want to know why if other Oregon counties can use timber payments how they want, why can’t Lane County?
County commissioners will hold a meeting on July 11 to talk about what to do with the money.