In response to Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice’s guest column in the Dec. 23 edition of The News-Review, Community Rights Douglas County would like to clarify a few important points.
First, “self-created” organizations are how movements start. They represent the backbone of democracy. CRDC is part of the Oregon Community Rights Network, working with other state groups to build awareness among residents of local issues throughout the state. ORCRN is associated with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) which works and supports at the national level by providing invaluable skills and expertise to the networks throughout the states. Furthermore, the community rights movement is growing internationally. We may be “self-appointed” “opinionists” (sic), but we are part of an international movement that advocates for the rights of communities and their citizens as well as nature by challenging and exposing the corporate/government partnership.
Boice justifies Douglas County’s questionable expenditures of Title III funds by defending the corporate profits the timber industry generates while these outside-owned, large corporations suck all the resources/dollars out of the local community. He abdicates responsibility for his own lack of transparency by misdirecting the public’s attention: Douglas County residents are not responsible for the Timber Industry’s tax burden in Washington D.C. We need to remember that the corporations are charged a much lower tax than individuals. If Commissioner Boice wants to discuss national debt and taxes, CRDC wants to advocate for the Timber Industry to shoulder a heavier tax responsibility so they can start paying for the roads and bridges they are using. We appreciate how he has struck at the heart of the reason Community Rights Douglas County exists: The people need to be aware of how the corporate interests juxtapose community’s in this tax relationship that impacts their property taxes when county commissioners won’t advocate for them.
Commissioner Boice creates a “Pollyanna Fallacy” when he paints his picture of the Title III expenditures and the future glory days for the timber industry, barred from federal restrictions. We simply cannot log our way out of our financial difficulties. However, a real and unaddressed issue stands starkly: Where did this money come from to pay for the vehicles and the bridge reconstruction?
Senator Merkley responded to CRDC’s inquiries into the proper use of Title III funding with the following letter. Including Senator Wyden’s ban on lobbying, he clearly states that the SRS expired more than a year ago. At the Board of Commisioners public meeting, Commissioner Tim Freeman informed us that the SRS had been rewritten so that the purchasing of equipment and training funding that was not previously allowed in 2012 are now allowed. He counseled me to follow the most recent report, something he must be unable to do himself (BOC, Nov. 18, 2020 https://youtu.be/I9h7LTnfK1s https://youtu.be/xzfxRwIRZQM). Here, Commissioner Freeman incontrovertibly contradicts Senator Merkley:
Thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts about the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
The SRS program was enacted in the early 2000s to help counties that were struggling with declining timber revenue provide basic services like education, libraries, law enforcement, and road maintenance. The goal of this program was to support counties with funding while Congress worked to develop a sustainable solution to address declining timber revenue. Funds from SRS have become vital to maintaining rural schools, county roads, and public safety.
Unfortunately, the SRS program expired over a year ago. The program’s reauthorization is a top priority of mine, which is why I am a cosponsor of the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act (S.430).
I am also a cosponsor of the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act (S.1643), which would establish a federal endowment fund for county services, so there is a permanent source of revenue for counties aside from timber receipts. Public lands are one of Oregon’s many treasures, and the rural communities that reside alongside our public lands deserve to have stable funding for their basic necessities.
In order to ensure that SRS funding supports schools, roads, and public safety as intended, I am an original cosponsor of Senator Wyden’s bill (S.2861) to prohibit lobbying and require annual reporting on how SRS funds are spent. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind should any legislation about SRS come up for a vote.
Thank you for your input. I hope you will keep sending your thoughts and observations my way.
All my best,
Jeffrey A. Merkley
United States Senator
So, we have to ask commissioners Boice and Freeman: When and where did you get the money? With the SRS Act expired, the county commissioners’ narrative appears to be even more of a Pollyanna fallacy. Without a harvest tax, Douglas County’s benefit from timber receipts is miniscule. And there hasn’t been Title III funding for over a year.