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Breidenthal plans to continue traveling

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal plans to travel more than his fellow commissioners during the coming fiscal year despite criticism over his travel expenses and absence from local meetings.

Breidenthal has racked up more than $73,000 in travel expenses during his three years in office and missed more than 30 meetings this year.

During a Tuesday work session, commissioners went over a list of events around Oregon and the nation that would require spending on travel. The list covered meetings of organizations including the Association of Oregon Counties, the Association of O&C Counties and the National Association of Counties. Several of the organizations advocate for counties hard-hit by logging cutbacks.

The cost for each trip ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending largely on the distance from Medford and the number of days needed per trip.

Breidenthal said he wanted to go to most events, while Commissioners Rick Dyer and Colleen Roberts said they would bow out of several trips around Oregon and the nation.

"From the day I stepped into office, I wanted to get a handle on spending — including travel spending," said Dyer, who took office with Roberts as the junior commissioners on the board in January.

Referring to travel spending, Dyer added, "It's getting to the level we need to make some tough choices."

Breidenthal said trips to Washington, D.C., are especially important for commissioners to lobby members of Congress for federal payments to offset falling timber revenues shared with counties. He said he also advocates for policies that get Jackson County residents back to work in the woods.

Breidenthal said he planned to attend a National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional representatives. The conference was one of the events Dyer and Roberts said they would not attend.

"When we talk about our county specifically, it brings it home," said Breidenthal, adding that East Coast senators otherwise don't understand how logging cutbacks hurt rural Western counties.

Dyer said Oregon's senators and representatives have the responsibility to fight for the state's interests on the national level.

Breidenthal countered that Oregon's senators, both Democrats, don't necessarily share Jackson County's views on land management.

Dyer said the impact of any single county commissioner on national decisions is limited and doesn't justify the travel spending.

"I haven't seen the results of these efforts bearing fruit," Dyer said.

Roberts said she doesn't necessarily agree with Oregon seeking federal payments to offset lost logging revenue or the tax revenue the county would receive if so much land wasn't held by the federal government in the county. The county cannot tax federal lands.

"Payment in lieu of taxes is like us asking for a welfare check," Roberts said.

Roberts and Dyer also said they didn't want to attend American Forest Resource Council meetings, while Breidenthal said he plans to go.

Roberts and Dyer said they don't plan to attend a Western Interstate Region meeting in Sunriver. Breidenthal, who holds a leadership position with the organization, said he would go, but the county would be reimbursed for his travel expenses because of that position.

All three commissioners agreed to attend some meetings, including annual Association of Oregon Counties and Association of O&C Counties meetings in Eugene. For the more frequent monthly Association of Oregon Counties meetings, Breidenthal said attending in person was important, while Dyer and Roberts said they would attend via teleconference calls.

Breidenthal said significant issues will be discussed at the monthly meetings, including minimum wage increase proposals and implementation of marijuana legalization.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.