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Bill would extend county payments four years

WASHINGTON — Payments to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging, including Jackson County, would continue for four years under an energy bill being considered by Congress.

A deal reached today would set aside more than $1.5 billion to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act through 2012.

Another $350 million would be directed to rural states through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which reimburses state and local governments for federally owned property.

Lawmakers and staff members stressed that the deal was tentative, but said it was included in energy legislation that could come up for a vote in the House as soon as Thursday.

A Senate Democratic aide said the plan would authorize $554 million for the timber program in the fiscal year that starts next October, with payments decreasing each year until they reach $202 million in the 2012 fiscal year. The money for the program known as PILT, for payments in lieu of taxes, would be authorized for only one year.

The law expired in September 2006, but Congress approved a one-year extension this spring.

Jackson County closed libraries for six months this year and cut other programs after losing $23 million annually from the program. Libraries reopened this fall with reduced hours.

— The Associated Press