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ODOT to share more federal COVID-19 aid with counties

The Oregon Department of Transportation is proposing a more equal share of federal COVID-19 relief funding after Jackson County commissioners complained the state planned to keep too much money for itself rather than splitting it with local governments.

The federal aid helps state and local governments pay for road and bridge work after they saw big dropoffs in revenue from gas taxes, license and vehicle registration fees, and taxes on heavy trucks. People have been driving less during the pandemic, and the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles has been offering limited services.

ODOT had initially proposed passing along $26.1 million — a figure that represented 21% of that federal aid — to counties and cities, according to Jackson County.

ODOT will instead propose sharing 45% of the aid with counties and cities, said Travis Brouwer, assistant director for revenue, finance and compliance for ODOT.

That would bring the share for local governments up to nearly $56 million.

“We are going to be bringing the Oregon Transportation Commission a revised proposal that modifies the proposal and provides a larger share of funding to local governments,” Brouwer said.

The state transportation commissioners will hear the new proposal March 11, and Brouwer said he believes they will support it.

ODOT received requests for a more equal funding split from Jackson County and a number of other counties, the Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities, Brouwer said.

Jackson County commissioners sent a letter Feb. 16 to the Oregon Transportation Commission advocating for a more balanced and equitable split of the federal aid.

In the letter they said Jackson County has seen a $1.4 million loss in revenue needed to maintain, operate and improve its transportation system. The losses have forced the county to delay needed capital improvement projects that address safety issues in the road network. If revenue receipts don’t improve, the county faces deeper cuts to critical maintenance work.

“The county agrees that the COVID-19-related financial impacts to ODOT’s budget are real. We want to emphasize, however, that they are just as real to Jackson County and other local governments who have a considerably smaller pool of revenue options to draw from,” the commissioners’ letter said.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said during a commission meeting that the issue of the state not sharing federal COVID-19 relief funds fairly has become a common theme during the pandemic.

Dyer said the county repeatedly has had to fight for a fair share of different pools of federal COVID-19 aid for Southern Oregon.

Jackson County commissioners first started lobbying for a fairer distribution of money in the spring of 2020, when the first wave of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money was released.

The Portland area had received hundreds of millions of dollars in direct federal help, but communities outside the metro area were relying on the state to distribute federal aid.

Gov. Kate Brown later decided to provide portions of the federal aid to other parts of the state after hearing complaints from Jackson County and other local governments.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Mail Tribune file photo