SALEM — The Oregon Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill to help struggling timber counties conduct elections, collect taxes and handle veterans services. Without debate, the Senate voted unanimously to send the bill, HB2206B, to Gov. John Kitzhaber for his signature.
The governor plans to sign it, pending an internal review, spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said.
The bill would allow financially struggling counties to ask the governor to declare an emergency, opening the way for state agencies to help with elections, collecting taxes and providing services to veterans.
The Legislature has yet to act on a more significant bill, HB3453, which would allow the governor to declare a public safety emergency in counties that refuse to vote for enough tax revenue to finance their sheriff's departments and jails. The bill has hit a stumbling block over how to raise taxes without approval from voters.
Democratic Sen. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay and Rep. Bruce Hana, R-Roseburg, said in statements that timber counties cannot continue to wait for help from Congress to increase federal logging that pays revenues to counties.
Timber counties also have some of the lowest taxes in the state, and voters have been reluctant to approve tax increases. Two of three counties voting last May on tax increases turned them down — Curry and Josephine. Lane County approved funding narrowly focused on the jail, where inmates were routinely set free for lack of room. Coos, Douglas, Jackson and Klamath counties have all had to make deep budget cuts.
"It's unfortunate that our forest management policies — or lack thereof — have put counties in a position where we even need to discuss these options," Hanna said. "However, I'm grateful that HB 2206 is now headed to the governor's desk so that distressed counties can have another tool at their disposal to manage critical services."