Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman cited a court victory that could spell the end of the county’s financial troubles as chief among the historic events of 2019.
Freeman made his remarks in the annual State of the County address, delivered Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel for Douglas County. We’ve made some very difficult choices over the last five years and continued to make those choices through 2019, but with this court case ruling and other work that we’ve done here we’ve seen a way to keep the county from going insolvent and have a path forward,” Freeman said.
The lawsuit Freeman was referring to involved Bureau of Land Management harvests on lands formerly owned by the Oregon & California Railroad.
A group of counties challenged the BLM’s management plan for those lands in United States District Court in Washington, D.C. The counties argued the O&C Act of 1937 said the lands must be managed for timber production on a sustained yield basis and the harvest revenue shared with the counties. The BLM’s plan had called for 80% of the land to be pulled into a reserve and not logged. The judge agreed with the counties.
The counties also successfully argued the minimum harvest on those lands is 500 million board feet per year, up from the 206 million board feet under the BLM plan.
Funding from Douglas County’s share of the harvest revenue would be enough to sustain the county’s budget, allowing it to provide its current level of services and stop dipping into its dwindling reserves, Freeman said.
He said he hopes the Department of Interior, the defendant in the case, will not appeal the decision but let it stand.
Another historic event last year was a Feb. 25 snowstorm that tested the county’s organization, Freeman said.
“I could not be more proud of the work that our staff, departments, other elected officials and my fellow commissioners did during that time,” he said.
The emergency manager put the county on alert ahead of time and public works staff, sheriff’s deputies, search and rescue volunteers, and the commissioners themselves were out responding to the storm.
Public works staff started plowing the first night of the storm and picked up storm debris. Sheriff’s deputies were out with chainsaws, helping clear the roads and Commissioner Chris Boice was in his new Jeep tirelessly working to help others even though he himself was out of power. Boice restarted a generator one of those nights for a radio tower to restore law enforcement communications, Freeman said.
After the storm, county officials worked to ensure a state of emergency was declared and expenses were accounted for and reimbursed through federal funds.
At the last count, $4.5 million had been spent responding to the storm, Freeman said.
A few other highlights from Freeman’s speech included:
- Two other incidents were declared disasters last year, one the heavy April rainstorms and the other the Milepost 97 fire, the largest wildfire of the year, which was started by an illegal campfire south of Canyonville.
- Memorials were held for 28 veterans whose remains had been unclaimed, and Douglas County Veterans Service Officer Mary Newman-Keyes became their official next of kin. A flag used in the first ceremony, honoring World War I veterans, was given to the county and was displayed at the commissioners’ desk during Wednesday’s address.
- The Douglas County Parks Department is following a strategy of spending on campgrounds such as the ongoing renovations to the recently purchased Umpqua Dunes RV Park. Increasing revenue from camping fees has put the department on a trajectory to possibly eliminate parking fees at the county parks in about two years, Freeman said.
- Douglas County Senior Services delivered 73,000 meals to seniors.
- The Sheriff’s Office processed 2,708 handgun licenses and 5,700 dog licenses. “We still like dogs better than guns,” Freeman quipped, “but we certainly like guns here in Douglas County too.”
- Deputies were dispatched to more than 53,000 calls for service last year. County residents made more than 150,000 911 calls, 126,000 of them seeking police assistance.
- For the first time in county history, all three commissioners were sworn in for a four-year term at the same time in 2019. That means their positions will end at the same time, and be up for election again in 2022.