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Calculation error leaves O&C counties in the lurch

and local reports

Oregon counties already struggling to cope with declining federal timber revenues will get less than they expected from a federal safety net program due to a calculation error, a slip-up criticized by a member of the state's congressional delegation.

Jackson County will receive about $2 million less than it was originally told.

The 18 so-called O&C Counties of Western Oregon learned in June that they will share only $40 million in their final payment under a federal safety net program. They had been told it would be $51.6 million.

Jackson County will receive about $5 million instead of the $7 million budgeted, but the decrease won't have any immediate effect on services.

"Unlike other counties, we are not making any cuts because of this," County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

The county has made adjustments to its budget over the past four years to account for continuing declines in timber payment receipts, As recently as 2008, Jackson County received more than $20 million.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Andrea Nelson said the earlier, larger estimate was not a formal calculation and the error was identified while going over the budget for fiscal year 2012, Nelson said. She said the formula used to calculate the final payments was a new one to the agency.

Nelson said the $40 million figure was published last March in a budget document, but Rocky McVay of the Association of O&C Counties said counties did not find out until June, by which time they had already prepared their budgets. He said now they will have to go back and cut even more.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had harsh words for BLM Director Bob Abbey for the error and for not telling the counties sooner.

"The counties are holding the bag for a BLM error," Wyden said afterward. "To me, the agency ought to be looking at ways to help reduce some of the suffering that is due to their unwillingness to communicate in a timely way what is going on."

Abbey told Wyden during the hearing that there was little to be done after the fact, since the amount of money was based on a formula set by law.

The Secure Rural Schools Act authorized five annual payments to timber counties around the country that have seen declining revenue coming from national forests. The 18 O&C Counties in Oregon get additional money because they also received a share of revenues from timber cut on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Douglas County, which gets more O&C money than any of the counties, will see a $3.6 million reduction, which amounts to about one-eighth of the general fund, said Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson.