For most of the last century, U.S. counties with federal timber land (read: much of Oregon) got a share of the proceeds of sales. Originally used to fund schools and roads, these payments now go to a wide range of other county services — everything from libraries to mental health clinics, bridges to jails.
The money allowed timber-full counties to keep their taxes low (and they didn’t have very large tax bases to begin with). But when logging on federal lands plunged in the 1990s — remember the spotted owl? — the revenue dropped, too. Congress fixed it for a while, making up the difference from other funds. But that fix expired, and a stop-gap one year extension is now due to go away this June.
Some counties are still hoping the money will be restored, but others say it’s reality time. When do you know it’s time to say goodbye to a historic source of income due to circumstances beyond your control? And what’s the best way forward? More logging? Rolling back property tax limits? Raising specific levies for specific services? Or, if those levies don’t pass, perhaps just cutting the services themselves?
- Mike McArthur: Executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties
- Clint Riley: Sergeant of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office
- Steve Gratsby: Judge of Harney County
- Ron Smith: Retired public school administrator in Bend, Oregon
- Bruce Weber Professor of agriculture and resource economics and director of Oregon State University’s Rural Studies program
- Georgia Yee Nowlin: Chair of Curry Co. commission