OSU Extension Services seeking dedicated tax district after timber payments cut

One of the many services formerly funded by timber fee supplements, one that has fostered Clackamas County's agricultural industry for 90 years, is looking to create a special district to make sure it can keep operating in the face of lost funds and a growing population.

The Clackamas County branch of the Oregon State University Extension Services, through the Board of County Commissioners, is seeking a special district that would allow it to continue its services by replacing the lost timber revenues that previously supported it.

'We have for the last 90 years relied on the county general fund as our sole source for revenue,' said Mike Bondi, the Clackamas County Extension Services chair.

'They used to receive a significant portion of [the county timber receipts], so with the loss of that revenue, they're trying to find a stable funding source to replace that,' said county administrator John Mantay.

The county began receiving annual monetary supplements from the federal government under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act after the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan limited the federally owned land available for logging. Those supplements ended this year, leaving the county with a $12.5 million hole in its budget.

'I think the other part of it is to provide a long-term stable source of income as the county grows,' Bondi said.

Although the Extension Service is best known for rural, agricultural projects, Bondi said its urban and suburban role is strong and growing.

'Our programs that are growing the fastest are the ones that are in town,' Bondi said, but added, 'The projections indicate that we're going to see growth not just in the urban/suburban area, but also in the rural area.'

Extension Services project a 50 percent growth in the county's population over the next 20 years, and it wants to be fully available to serve those residents.

Cities on board

Last week Milwaukie approved the order to create the special district, and Oregon City did the same in December. So far 10 of the 17 cities and municipalities of Clackamas County have opted to join, and Bondi said he's in discussions with three others. Once all the cities have been given a chance to join, the county will hold public hearings and, finally, creation of the district will be put to a referendum, possibly as early as November.

The special district would add a tax of five cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which Bondi said would generate about $1.5 million dollars per year. The service currently operates on a budget of about $400,000 to $450,000, Bondi said, but the increase will help it keep up with growth.

Array of services

The Extension Service offers many programs and forums for assistance, especially in agricultural training. It does local, informal workshops and presentations with farmers to show them new methods of food preservation and processing, with OSU backing providing the research and expertise. When the Service started in 1917, its volunteers would travel around in railcars and teach the latest canning and preservation techniques at stops along the way.

The Service's mission still 'is to bring the knowledge and research base of the university to communities to solve local problems.'

Clackamas County is the second-largest agricultural county in the state, and the Extension Service said it assists about 50,000 people per year through classes, workshops and tours, informational publications, and Internet-based and over-the-phone help.

But Bondi said considering it a largely rural service is a misnomer. 'A lot of our programs really focus on people in the urban/suburban area,' Bondi said.

Milwaukie actually has the largest group of Master Gardeners, he added, and Extension personnel help cities address things like growth management, nutrition education for children dealing with obesity, and water-quality concerns.

The Clackamas County 4-H Club, the largest one in the state, is also run by the service.

And while livestock and state fairs may come to mind at its mention, Bondi said it teaches more and diverse aspects of 'life-skills training' - like cooking and GPS classes - that translate to any community.

'Most of all of the clubs get involved in community leadership … more than just technology, it's also about leadership and the life skills children learn.'

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