The BLM announced this week it will make an $8 million Secure Rural Schools payment to Douglas County.
The Secure Rural Schools funds released this month were already expected and included in the county government’s 2018-19 Fiscal Year budget. SRS funds have not been reauthorized for the county’s 2019-20 Fiscal Year.
The U.S. Forest Service also announced this week that it will release $2.9 million it had incorrectly sequestered from Secure Rural Schools payments to Oregon counties. More than $400,000 of that will go to Douglas County, with a quarter of that going to local schools and the remainder to county government, which can use it for roads, bridges and sheriff’s patrols.
Most of the BLM funds the county receives go into the general fund, with no strings attached about how it’s spent. There had been some concern the BLM, too, would incorrectly sequester some of the money. However, Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., he and other members of the Association of O&C Counties advocated on the county’s behalf to prevent that happening and to get the money released that the Forest Service had sequestered.
Freeman said the funds are important, but they make up a small portion of the county’s budget. The county budgeted $145 million in expenditures for Fiscal Year 2018-19. The SRS money is also a slightly smaller amount than the county receives in property taxes each year. The county continues deficit spending to maintain services even with those SRS funds.
The SRS payments were originally proposed as a band-aid payment meant to compensate the county for the revenue sharing it used to receive when the federal government was harvesting more timber a few decades ago. The SRS payments are just a fraction of the money that the county received during those times.
“We’re grateful for it, but it represents less than 20 percent of historical timber receipts adjusted for inflation,” Freeman said.