It was just about a year ago that supporters of a medical college in Roseburg got a bit of good news/bad news from the Oregon State Legislature. Legislators had approved $10 million for the college — short of the $15 million-$20 million that local supporters had hoped for, but still enough, they said, to make the nearly decade-long dream become reality.
But two weeks ago those supporters got the news that the $10 million that had been appropriated for the college, now officially known as the Southern Oregon Medical Workforce Center, was no longer available. The money was to be backed by lottery funds, but lottery sales dried up amid COVID-19, and funding for dozens of projects was scuttled.
On Tuesday, during a meeting of the board that was created to develop the workforce center, board members were told that their best bet to get the $10 million back would be to lobby legislators to replace the funds during a special session Gov. Kate Brown is expected to call in early August.
“It’s a good time to get the pressure on our legislative partners who are listening in on this call,” said Ryan Tribbett of Pac/West Communications, giving a verbal nudge to State Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, who was sitting in on the Zoom meeting.
Supporters of the workforce center have touted it as a way to address the shortage of medical professionals in the region as well as provide an economic boost to Douglas County with the influx of hundreds of students and faculty to the area.
In a show of support, the Roseburg City Council last summer agreed to loan up to $10 million to help establish the workforce center.
But the $10 million in state funds is no longer available due to a collapse in the sale of lottery tickets, which have been off by as much as 90% compared to last year due to restrictions associated with COVID-19.
That drop in lottery funds killed the sale of more than $270 million in state bonds to pay for three dozen major projects in Oregon, including money for the workforce center.
In order to sell bonds, the state must show a 4-to-1 ratio between forecast Lottery Fund revenue and the amount of debt in the bonds. That has not been a problem in previous budget cycles since the lottery was established in 1984. But the collapse of lottery sales left the state with a Lottery Fund bonding ratio of just over 3-to-1, which is too low.
During the upcoming special legislative session, legislators will work to trim down the list of projects paid for by lottery funds in order to meet the required 4-to-1 ratio, Tribbett said.
“There will be a handful of projects that get cut, we just need to make sure we’re not one of them,” he said.
In other business Tuesday, members of the Umpqua Valley Development Corp. board said they have been talking to representatives from the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls to provide instruction in radiology tech and lab tech. The board plans to arrange a trip to OIT to gather information on the school.
The board also is working toward selecting a site for the workforce center. On Tuesday, the board decided to hold most of the discussions surrounding a possible site in secret, in what is known as executive session. State law allows such secretive meetings to discuss real estate transactions.
Plans for the workforce center have been in the works for nearly a decade.
George Fox University has signed on to provide the academic and administrative structure of the college. Plans called for the college to offer advanced degrees in multiple allied and mental health fields.
The next UVDC board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11, but that may change depending on what happens during the special legislative session.