Commissioners pledge to make millions available to infrastructure

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Schools were back in session Wednesday, including Brown Middle School, where school employees Kathy Flynn-French and Patty Applegate served as crossing guards as students filed in to class. School districts around the county stand to gain as the Washington County Commissioners pledge to shift more Gain Share funds to schools.The Washington County Board of Commissioners appears eager to commit a significant portion of its future Gain Share funds to the schools and public safety projects.

During a Tuesday morning work session, the commissioners reviewed spending priorities for the nearly $90 million the county is expected to receive from the state over the next five years.

Several members talked about the need to pledge $5 million a year to school districts in the county and begin earthquake upgrades of county buildings as soon as possible. Their goal was to convince future sessions of the Oregon Legislature to continue the revenue sharing program by showing the money is needed for critical programs and projects.

“We need to show the good causes we’re funding with the money now, instead of what we’re planning to do with it. Otherwise it could go away,” said Commissioner Roy Rogers.

Other projects discussed by the commissioners included a new events center at the Washington County Fairgrounds, new bicycle and sidewalk connections throughout the county, construction funds for the proposed Aloha Library and a matching grant for the Washington County Museum.

But Rogers and the other commissioners repeatedly stressed the importance of some of the proposed projects because of attempts to reduce the county’s Gain Share funds during the 2013 Oregon Legislature. Even before the start of the session, Senate Finance and Revenue Chairwoman Ginny Burdick said the program was estimated to cost the state far more than originally projected and should be cut back.

The budget proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber set aside less than half the funds estimated to be returned to local governments over the next two years. And during the session, state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) and state Rep. Joe Gallegos (D-Hillsboro) pushed to dedicate 40 percent of the local government payments to school districts.

Washington County and Hillsboro officials aggressively defended the program as a promise made by the state to its local partners, however, and the county and city defused the effort by Unger and Gallegos by promising to pay school districts in the county $5 million from Gain Share revenues over the next two years.

In the end, the Legislature did not change the laws governing the program, and fully funded it.

Gain Share allows local governments to waive a portion of their property taxes on qualifying businesses to create and save jobs. Created by the 2007 Oregon Legislature, Gain Share pays the local governments 50 percent of the additional state income taxes generated by the new and retained jobs. Washington County governments are the biggest recipient of Gain Share funds, primarily because of the large expansions by Intel, its biggest employer.

Washington County received its first Gain Share check for $12.5 million during the session. After distributing proportional amounts to other local governments, the county was left with roughly $7 million. The county received its second check for approximately $23 million last Friday. After sending $5 million to the school districts and reimbursing the governments, it expects to keep approximately $11.4 million this year.

That number is projected to grow to $89.7 million at the end of five years — if future legislative sessions do not change the program.

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