County set to leave statewide lobbying effort

Jackson County commissioners have given notice they will drop out of a 105-year-old lobbying organization for Oregon counties because of a growing rift over legislative direction.

This is the only county in recent memory to have left the Association of Oregon Counties. Of the 36 counties in Oregon, Jackson will be the only one that won't be part of the association.

Commissioner C.W. Smith had resigned from the association's board of directors this summer because of radiation treatment for cancer and was in line to be selected president of the association's board of directors next year.

He said Jackson County wanted support from the association to back legislation that would help compensate county assessors offices throughout the state for taxes collected for other agencies.

"We did get at cross purposes over some legislation," Commissioner C.W. Smith said.

The county tried to get a letter sent out through the association in support of the legislation, but failed to get it in a timely manner, he said.

Smith said the general lack of support means the county will not renew its membership in January.

The county sent a letter Dec. 14 stating the association has forsaken the counties to maintain relationships with other groups such as the League of Oregon Cities and the Oregon School Boards Association.

Jackson County pays $31,000 annually in dues, representing about 5 percent of the total dues collected from all counties by the association.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the association has had a history of not helping counties in Southern Oregon.

In 1996, he remembers trying to get support on land-use issues. They weren't willing to help us at all," he said.

The county not only spends money for dues, but also incurs significant travel expenses going back and forth to Salem or Eugene. With teleconferencing, he said there is no reason for that anymore.

Walker said the county wanted support from the association to create a tax base for assessors' offices throughout the state that collect for a number of agencies. Every time a new agency is created, it gives the Assessor's Office additional work but no extra revenue.

Walker said the proposed legislation would likely step on somebody's toes, but he said he sees the association's job as sticking up for the counties.

In general, the association appears to have more allegiance to counties in the northern part of the state, he said.

"There hasn't been, in my estimation, a good effort to communicate with the rural counties," he said.

Mike McArthur, executive director for the association, said he was surprised to get the letter Thursday from Jackson County.

He said there have been differences of opinion of legislation, but with an association that is comprised of 36 counties that's nothing new.

"I'm hopeful about clearing up a misunderstanding about some sequence of events that happened during the last legislative session," he said. "We've got a failure to communicate."

McArthur said he thinks the association didn't react fast enough to get behind the legislation Jackson County was pushing. He said it is difficult to get that kind of support quickly because it has to through various committees in his organization, but ultimately it was supported.

Commissioners may not be aware of all the issues the association is currently grappling with, including trying to get agreement from the counties of the tax initiatives, Measure 66 and 67, he said.

"With C.W.'s physical problems, and Jack's too, and Dave's busy schedule, they have a tough time staying up on what's going on here," McArthur said.

McArthur disagreed that the association was showing more support for other special interest groups.

He said it is sometimes necessary to reach a compromise with other groups, which have the power to kill legislation. Paying the assessors' offices would take about 2 percent from tax revenues that are badly needed by schools, he said.

McArthur said Commissioner Walker has often criticized his organization for not taking a tougher stand on some land-use issues.

However, he said the organization will be pushing for legislation that might provide some relief for those who sought relief from property rights laws under Measure 37.

McArthur said he plans to draft a letter responding to Jackson County with board president Steve Grasty. He hopes to meet with local commissioners in the near future to help resolve some of the differences.

McArthur said no county has dropped out of the organization since he's been executive director in 1992.

"That doesn't mean we haven't had people upset with us," he said. "But we've always managed to work through that."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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