A proposal presented by an advisory board to a state commission which would apparently redirect funds earmarked for the local area has been changed, thanks to heavy lobbying by the Prineville community.
>Recommendations from an advisory board that were seen as being made without public input and after rules were changed mid-stream met with great public outcry and lack of support
The issue arose early last week when the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) reported that because of a result of recent higher cost estimates for First and Second Round of Senate Bill 622 telecommunications projects, a cut of about $5 million had occurred. The Oregon Economic and Community Development Department and the Connecting Oregon Communities Advisory Board therefore had to revise their recommendations to the Oregon Economic Development Commission.
Crook County Judge Scott Cooper explained that originally about $73.3 million had been proposed for telecommunications projects around the state. When only $68.3 million was funded, the advisory board recommended dropping a number of projects affecting the central Oregon region. At the same time a group of Portland area legislators had reportedly pressured the Advisory Board to add a $3.5 million Portland Development Commission project to the funding list without the formal prioritization given to projects in the "Phase 1" funding.
Economically, it is important for Crook County to get funding to add a second main telephone line and additional services like Digital Service Lines (DSL). These telecommunications services are believed to be absolutely necessary to attract new high tech companies. With the ever-declining wood products industry and high unemployment, Crook County is ranked as one of the more economically distressed communities in the state. This new infrastructure could be a major factor in attracting new jobs.
When the news of this proposed change in the funding, Cooper and Diane Bohle, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce decided to take the battle to Salem. Friday they drove over and appeared before the commission.
As part of that effort, members of the local business community were asked to let the commission know about the local concerns.
Bohle said the Commission was impressed by the 60 or so faxes that they recieved either directly or that had she had delivered to them.
"It was evident that they were surprised by the response and had not had seen a concerted action like this from a business community for quite some time," Bohle said when reporting on the day's work. "The Commissioners specifically acknowledged the importance of telecommunications to our community. I made the point that we need to be on a level playing field withour regional neighbors in terms of recruiting business. I also relayed the importance of DSL not only for business, but for distance education and for the development of an educated, effective workforce."
Cooper agreed, saying he believed going to Salem and testifying was "very valuable. The Commission was flumoxxed by the awesome support from the local business community. They didn't know how to react."
No final decision has yet been made by the Commission, Scott added. "The advisory board has been directed to go back into the rule making process and to reprioritize everything. I suspect we'll have to give up some of our projects. I suspect everybody will have to give something up."
The next meeting of the Commission has been set in Salem, April 12