County could lose millions in fed forest payments

February 10th, 2005 - 6:50am


(Port Angeles) -- Treasurer Judy Scott says Clallam County stands to lose almost 2-million dollars a year beginning in 2007 if the so-called county payments law is not extended for another seven years.

Earlier this week, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey declined to endorse the extension of the law that has pumped billions of dollars into rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks. Clallam County received 1-point-89 million in 2002, 1-point-91 million in 2003 and 1-point-93 million dollars last year from the law that was adopted in 2000.

The law has pumped nearly two (b) billion dollars into timber-dependent states for schools, roads and other purposes. In the last six years, Clallam County has received 5-point-74 million dollars, half of which went to roads and the other half to school districts in the county.

Scott says the loss of the federal money would drop the road department budget by eight percent, using the figures from last year. Scott says former County Treasurer Ruth Gerdon was instrumental in helping to calculate the formula used by the federal government to decide how much money a rural county is given to make up for the loss of logging revenue from federal lands.

The Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 addresses the decline in revenue from timber harvest in recent years received on Federal land, which have historically been shared with counties.

For each year between 2001 and 2006, the law allows counties to receive a payment from the Federal government based on the State average of their top three years of payments from Federal lands. On Tuesday, Agriculture Undersecretary Rey told a Senate committee in Washington, D-C that the county payments law is working as intended.

However, Rey asked the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee NOT to reauthorize the law for another seven years. It is set to expire next year. He says, (quote) ``it's a very difficult budget environment right now.''

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden criticized Rey's decision, saying, ``This bill is essentially the lifeblood for thousands of rural counties.'' Oregon counties received aid totaling 273 million dollars last year, far surpassing the 67 million given to Number Two California.

Washington state was next with 45 million dollars, followed by Idaho with nearly 24 million and Montana with 14 million.



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