Final funding forum tonight

This evening will be the final community forum on how to help solve Jackson County's looming funding crisis brought on by the expected loss of annual timber subsidies the federal government began paying the county after it imposed logging restrictions to protect wildlife.

Citizens for County Funding Solutions, a coalition of local civic groups, organized a total of five town hall meetings, the last of which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Medford City Council chambers, 411 W. Eighth St., in Medford.

The forums were aimed at "helping to build clarity and trust" among Jackson County residents and the county's board of commissioners, said organizers who have been submitting residents' suggestions to county leaders after each of the events.

The commissioners will vet residents' suggestions presumably when they consider ideas offered by the Task Force on Jackson County Services, the 13-member nonpartisan panel that commission Chairman Dennis C.W. Smith charged with developing long-range funding solutions to overcome the $23 million loss annually in timber money.

"Feeling that the majority of the Jackson County citizens were not adequately represented by a small ... task force appointed by C.W. Smith, the response to the town hall meetings has brought out nearly 400 citizens already," Citizens for County Funding Solutions said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Ashland and Medford League of Women Voters chapters and the cities' branches of the American Association of University Women co-sponsored the community forums.

Among the ideas offered by residents thus far: levying a county-wide sales tax that would tap tourists and the underground economy, creating a special district to ensure continued library services and imposing a real estate transfer fee.

It has been suggested also that the county implement zero-based budgeting, a process where the county commissioners would review every department's functions each budget cycle to determine its funding rather than basing funding on the previous year's appropriation.

Jackson County's funding crisis emerged last year when the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000 was not reauthorized, but later Congress approved a one-year extension that ended Sept. 30.

Under the law, Congress began making payments to 700 counties in 39 states after federal logging restrictions approved in 1994 led to diminished harvests.

The lapse in funding earlier this year caused the closure of the county's library system in April as well as postponement of $4 million in road improvement projects.

Since that time, federal lawmakers have considered various proposals to help timber-dependent counties such as Jackson. One of them could provide southwestern Oregon counties another full year of federal payments then a 10 percent yearly decrease for five years before funding is terminated.

Another proposal &

by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. &

would provide four years of increased compensation to counties by closing a loophole in federal offshore oil and gas leases that allow many energy companies to forgo paying the government royalties.

covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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