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Economic, tax issues aplenty


   It appears Madras and Jefferson County are at an economic watershed here midway through 2012.
   Seems we're in the midst of some major changes.
   Mountain View Hospital is about to become St. Charles North -- not really, but indeed it appears the Madras hospital will be taken over, in some manner, by the Bend-based facility. Though it had a longtime partnership with St. Charles to provide top management services, Mountain View was the last holdout Central Oregon hospital to not be fully operated by St. Charles. That will soon change, thanks (or blame) primarily to changes in the funding of health care.
   Economically, the St. Charles takeover probably won't mean a substantial impact on the local economy. Mountain View has a reputation as a quality rural hospital, and that shouldn't change, in fact could be re-enforced. Eventually, though, when the transfer of ownership issues are ironed out, it could mean a reduction in local tax burden.
   Mountain View had a taxing district, which billed district taxpayers at about $25 per $1,000 in value. Depending on the nature of how St. Charles assumes hospital operations, that taxation could go away.
   And the timing of the potential tax roll reduction is intriguing. The hospital may be jettisoning their tax base just when the Madras Aquatic Center is needing to rework theirs upward. Recently, the MAC board of directors announced they'd be seeking a new operating levy of $40 per $1,000, in addition to their current $25 per $1,000. That new levy will be voted on come November.
   About a decade ago, when the MAC organization did the once-thought nearly impossible -- getting a swimming pool facility approved by local voters -- it did it by presenting a low rate (25 cents per $1,000) and betting on a continuation of what had been (for the decade prior) consistent growth and development.
   That growth, as we all know, hit a brick wall about four years ago. The lack of additional development, and contraction of existing property values, left the aquatic center underfunded, prompting employee cutbacks, facility closures in April, and consistent scrambling for short-term funding and financial security.
   The new bond measure is an effort to put the MAC's funding needs in line with the district's property value reality. It would mean about $240,000 in additional revenue annually. But there was a tough anti-pool crowd back when the project was approved, and a new campaign, in a tougher economy, will be a battle.
   But that's where the hospital might be doing the MAC a big favor. While the hospital's taxing district situation may not be ironed out in time for the fall vote, maybe even the idea of its eradication could be used by the MAC proponents. They could ask voters to consider the hospital and aquatic center part of the same community-building, health-promoting, vital piece of infrastructure. While the 100 percent local MAC is seeking an additional 40 cents per $1,000 to operate, the soon-to-be regionally operated hospital might be eliminating 25 cents per $1,000 from the tax rolls.
   So, the MAC could promote it as just a 15 cents per $1,000 hike overall. Stranger political connections have been made.
   The hospital changes and the MAC seeking stability are just part of the wave of big economic stories moving in on the county.
   The $27.1 million school bond passed this spring, with the Warm Springs referendum vote putting an exclamation mark on it in July, is a massive economic story. The construction from that bond will spark the local economy over the next few years, and its completion could be a game-changer for the reputation of our schools and community.
   Many expect the medium- security aspect of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution to open next year. That would add a couple hundred new jobs.
   Warm Springs, while weighing the impacts of its new casino in town and a now casino-less Kah-Nee-Ta Resort, is contemplating a major travel center on U.S. Highway 26, on the flats north of the community. They've also committed themselves to $10 million for their half of the new K-8 Warm Springs school. The tribes are always an interesting economic study, and certainly now.
   The county will soon have a new economic development coordinator from Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO). This week, Wayne Pearson, the first EDCO director here, announced he's leaving the job, retiring.
   Pearson endured a somewhat tumultuous four years. He was never fully in line with the local chamber following its challenge to his hiring. He also lost some traction with some local leaders when he led an aggressive challenge against Deschutes Valley Water District over its rates to current and potential commercial bottlers. But he did play a role in some success stories, expanding the enterprise zone to Culver, and helping facilitate important projects of existing businesses.
   I'm not sure who would have had tons of success selling Jefferson County during the past four years, during the Great Recession, but apparently someone new will be given the chance. Hopefully, this person will be able to build on Pearson's projects, and be blessed with a better economy and even more success.
   And, goodness, a better economy has to be on the near horizon. Doesn't it?