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Federal budget includes some county payments

President George Bush included federal timber payments for counties in his proposed $3.1 trillion budget presented to Congress this week.

He proposed providing a total of $200 million over three years — $100 million in 2010, $60 million in 2011 and $40 million in 2012. It is not clear how much Jackson County's portion would be. At best, it's a tiny fraction of the amount counties used to receive to pay for services like libraries and law enforcement.

"It's not enough," said Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith.

But he and Oregon advocates for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination program, which provided money to counties with large tracts of federal forests after timber harvests declined, are still glad that the president included the program at all.

"In Washington, it's better to be in something than not be in it at all," said Eric Schmidt, communications manager for the Association of Oregon Counties.

Since the timber-payment program expired in late 2006, the president had only included funding for it linked to the sale of federal land, a plan that was politically unpalatable across the board, Schmidt said.

"This is a little better than what we've had in the past," Smith said. "This is only a suggestion to Congress, but it shows that the president hears us when we go to lobby."

Before expiring, the program distributed about $540 million annually to 744 counties in 39 states, the Association of Oregon Counties reported. It provided a financial safety net to pay for services such as road repairs, law enforcement and schools in counties hard hit by the decline of logging. Jackson County got about $23 million annually.

After the act expired, a one-year extension was approved, but it, too, has expired, prompting a new round of proposals.

Oregon's congressional delegation has been pushing a $740 million, four-year extension, The Oregonian newspaper has reported.

Smith said he is working closely with officials from across the state and plans to travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of this month to meet with officials from timber dependent counties across the country and lobby for continued funding.

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