Decision to leave counties' group goes beyond a single bill

Your recent article about Jackson County leaving the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) implied that the decision was made in retaliation for the AOC's stance on a specific bill that was being promoted by Jackson County.

The reason was much more complicated.

It is true that we sought legislative relief from a long-term practice that benefited cities, school districts and special districts at the expense of counties. It is also true that we felt that our efforts were stymied by lobbying efforts of the AOC, which did not wish to harm established "relationships" with the city, school district and special district statewide organizations.

Jackson County's proposal did not "take about 2 percent from tax revenues that are badly needed by schools." Instead, we requested 2 percent of new taxes generated by reappraisals. Presently, most counties are 10-15 years behind in reappraisals. Although adding staff to handle the backlog would generate a significant amount of money for all taxing districts, the amount that would actually go to the counties would not be enough to pay for the added staff. Since reducing the backlog would actually cost the counties more than the new moneys generated, there is little incentive to add the needed staff. Diverting a portion of new moneys would have zero impact on present budgets of schools.

The claim by AOC's director, Mike McArthur, that we "have a tough time staying up on what is going on (in Salem)" because of scheduling and health issues is incorrect. During the last legislative session, we were able to track bills important to us on a timely basis. Both state Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Sen. Allen Bates, D-Ashland, worked tirelessly for us in pushing our agenda through their respective chambers. Had the Republicans been in charge, I am certain that our Republican legislators would have been similarly engaged.

When we lobbied in Washington for renewal of O&C moneys, contacts with individual congressmen and women were made, not by AOC staff, but by the staffs of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and our employee union (SEIU).

Over the past few years, we have challenged many long-held assumptions on how our county government should be run. We stopped long-term contracts with lobbyists in both Salem and Washington, D.C., since we felt that direct personal contact with local legislators and the local staffs of our congressmen was much more cost effective. We contracted out library services after the voters twice turned down levies to run our libraries.

We pushed for self-insurance with our employees after the costs of medical care skyrocketed.

In a similar vein, we are challenging the value of maintaining our membership in the AOC.

McArthur's comment that the AOC "didn't react fast enough to get behind the legislation Jackson County was pushing because it has to go through various committees" is a telling statement of what the organization has become.

In these days of social networking, telecommunication and e-mails, communication and decision-making by monthly meetings in Salem has become an anachronism. The AOC has a list-serve of all Oregon commissioners.

Polling members and making decisions should take days or weeks, not months or years.

Since no one has left the AOC, no one knows for sure whether or not membership has value. It is possible that in a few years, future commissioners may feel that dropping out of the AOC was a mistake, and rejoin the organization. It is also possible that future commissioners may applaud us for leaving, and that other counties may follow a similar path. History will tell.

Dave Gilmour is chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

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