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Higher education physical plants may benefit from stimulus package

A $175 million state stimulus package working its way through the Legislature could provide money for roughly $400,000 worth of small projects in Jackson County.

If legislators approve the measure, the big winners would be education — with Southern Oregon University to receive nearly $2 million for deferred maintenance that could begin this spring and Rogue Community College ready to start $4 million worth of work on projects located primarily in Josephine County.

"This will help tremendously in the long-term financial health of the institution," said Lynda Warren, RCC's chief financial officer and dean of college services.

Tight budgets have forced the college to delay maintenance and limited its ability to save money for such projects in the future, she said.

The proposed stimulus package would provide money to replace worn carpet and broken tile, upgrade aging heating and air-conditioning systems, and improve computer and communication networks across the college. Roofing would be replaced at Riverside Campus' G Building and on buildings on the aging Redwood Campus in Grants Pass. About $500,000 of that work would be in Jackson County.

The Grants Pass campus and RCC's Illinois Valley center require more work, so the bulk of the funds would go there, Warren explained.

Bonds repaid with lottery revenues would pay for the community college projects.

The other small Jackson County projects are funded primarily with a type of bond that can only pay for improvements to state buildings and will be repaid out of the general fund over the next 15 to 20 years, said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The biggest projects are $131,000 for new carpeting for a state office building in Central Point and $120,000 for maintenance at a Department of Transportation shop also in Central Point. Other projects include a new storage building at Denman Wildlife Refuge, crack repairs at a Department of Forestry shop, upgrading some Central Point water lines, and repairs at the Ashland port of entry and weigh station and several other ODOT buildings.

"We hope this is a way to prime the economy and give the state longer use of its buildings, which is a good value for taxpayers," Buckley said.

The state Department of Administrative Services reported that the proposal should help keep construction crews busy until overall activity picks up.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, disagreed, cautioning that borrowing money for short-term projects that should be paid for in regular budgets could cause long-term problems, especially under current economic conditions.

He noted that the state faces a projected shortfall of $739 million this biennium, which could necessitate sudden, deep cuts in a variety of state services. He wants to focus on that problem and reserve money and borrowing capacity to tackle it.

As for stimulating the economy, he favors helping industry create permanent jobs.

Although Richardson called this "the most devastating financial situation I've seen in my lifetime," he cautioned that the government can't create an easy solution.

"Neither Salem nor Washington should panic and throw money at it," he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.