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Work groups to consider budget options
Herald and News 12/22/07

   SALEM (AP) — County officials from across Oregon convened at the state Capitol this week to discuss what seems to be the inevitable end of federal payouts.
   The prospects of securing another congressional extension of federal payments to Oregon counties with a legacy of timber production are looking grim.
   Last week, Congress killed a provision that would have extended for four years the so-called timber payments to rural Northwest counties. Congress probably won’t revisit the issue until February or March, and county officials said they were pessimistic about whether they could win more than a one-year extension.
   “I’ve run out of optimism. I’m to the reality stage at this point,” said Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green.
   In the next year, a task force of county officials will work on proposals for the 2009 Legislature to consider that would help counties make up for the loss of $200 million in federal payments, an estimated 17 percent of their combined operating and road budgets.
   Gil Riddell of the Association of Oregon Counties said the counties are shackled by “structural handcuffs” when it comes to making up for the loss of federal dollars.
   Looking at options
   Logging to produce more timber -tax revenue has been curtailed by environmental laws. And property tax limits passed by voters restrict what governments can do to raise taxes through the primary revenue source available to counties.
   County officials have agreed t o for m work groups on topics that include how counties might absorb the loss of federal dollars in areas such as juvenile services, courts, mental health and roads. They also will consider options for increased logging and ways to increase revenue.
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