Plan for end of federal payments

It should have sunk in to everyone by now that getting more than a one-year extension on the county payments program is going to be a hard sell. It means that Oregon and the rural counties have to plan for life without the money — about $280 million for 18 Oregon counties, which includes about $15 million for Klamath. That money goes to basic county services, and also to the two school districts.

The latest setback came last week when the U.S. Senate rejected the energy plan it was attached to. The rejection had far more to do with objections to parts of the energy plan that included incentives for oil companies.

The energy bill is expected to eventually return to the Senate with the county payments extension still attached.

Unfortunately, the county payments program has little appeal to areas outside the Northwest, no matter how justified the extra help is for Oregon's timber-producing rural counties.

Those counties thought they had a deal for the federal government to compensate the counties for the lack of property taxes paid on forested lands owned by the federal government, such as national forests.

Oregon, which gets the most money from the program, has tried along with other recipients to get the plan extended, since the reason for the program remains the same, even if the source of the funds has changed. The money going to the counties used to be provided by timber sold on federal lands for logging, but that dropped drastically when logging fell off because of environmental concerns.

The payments program began a six-year run in 2000, ended in 2006, then was approved for a one-year extension.

The only cautious thing for counties and others affected by the loss is to plan for life without the money. That presents a harsh reality, given the probable impact of the lost funds, but it's the likely one.

Klamath County commissioners have budgeted cautiously with an awareness of the eventual loss of the funds, but also need to think beyond budgeting and about an additional tax levy that they would not only put on the ballot but aggressively support. While there hasn't been much public support for extra taxes, such as one to support law enforcement, the attempt should be made.

While Oregon's U.S. representatives and senators need to keep the push going for the county payments, Oregon's rural counties need to prepare themselves for the worst.

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