Pending legislation would reauthorize federal payments to county

President Barack Obama signed a bill Wednesday, Oct. 2, to reauthorize county payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, and while Columbia County commissioners took note of the legislation, they said the money the county will receive is not enough to meet its needs.

Congress agreed on legislation to fund the nation’s helium reserve — while extending the Secure Rural Schools Act, originally passed in 2000, for one more year — last week, and Obama signed the bill into law. Under the Secure Rural Schools program, counties with federal timberlands receive funding from the federal government.

But Commissioner Earl Fisher said Wednesday that the amount Columbia County will receive from the one-year extension will be 5 percent less than it was last year.

“If you look at what we need for the jail, which is close to $2 million or something like that, the $600,000 [from Secure Rural Schools], if you put it all there, would be a drop in the bucket,” Fisher said at the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission’s morning meeting, comparing the bill to the November ballot levy for which commissioners are pushing to keep the Columbia County Jail open. “So the size of the problems that we face are not going to be solved with this amount of money.”

Speaking about the Secure Rural Schools extension last week, Commissioner Tony Hyde referred to the one-year reauthorizations at declining funding levels as “kind of like the death of a thousand cuts.”

“Each time, it’s a little bit less, and a little bit less,” Hyde said.

Hyde added, “We’re happy to have it. It doesn’t even stem the tide, frankly.”

Hyde is pushing for passage of a bill that would change federal policy on the management of the so-called O&C lands in western Oregon, a common moniker for the timberlands once owned by the Oregon and California Railroad that are now administered by the United States Department of the Interior.

House Resolution 1526 would open up the O&C lands, including almost 11,000 acres in Columbia County, to increased logging under less stringent state laws, while establishing what supporters say would be a reliable funding stream for O&C counties.

That bill has been passed by the House of Representatives, but faces opposition from congressional Democrats, who control the Senate, and a potential veto by Obama.

Hyde said Wednesday he is waiting to see a version of the bill Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said he would put forth in the Senate.

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