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Commissioners waive $1.5 million of RV park loan

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Children play at the Jackson County-owned Southern Oregon RV Park near Central Point.
Move frees up revenue to support parks, The Expo

Jackson County commissioners have agreed to waive payment of the last $1.5 million of a $3.5 million loan the county parks system borrowed from county coffers to build the Southern Oregon RV Park next to The Expo.

With the loan paid off, revenue from the RV park will be freed up to help support the parks system plus The Expo.

The parks department and The Expo have both been vital in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and destructive 2020 fires, but their revenue has dropped due to park closures and the cancellation of events such as concerts and the 2020 county fair at The Expo, said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The plan has always been to use revenue from the RV park to buttress the parks system and The Expo once the loan was paid off, but forgiving a portion of the loan fast-tracks that financial boost.

"It puts both of the programs on solid footing," Jordan said.

In 2016, the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department took out a $3.5 million, 10-year loan from the county's general fund to finance construction of the RV park, said John Vial, director of the department.

In regular years, the RV park has proven popular, but it also suffered from a dropoff in use during two smoke-filled summers and the COVID-19 pandemic, Vial said.

Still, the RV park has been ahead of schedule on its loan payments.

With the loan paid off, the RV park can contribute approximately $440,000 of its revenue to the parks system and $60,000 to The Expo in a typical year, Vial estimated.

That money will help the parks system address a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, from improving parking lots to installing new roofs on aging buildings, he said.

"This is a huge benefit to our parks program. It's going to allow us to address some much-needed items," Vial said.

Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said he doesn't want the parks department to have to keep deferring maintenance since that just costs money down the road. During the past chaotic year, he said The Expo and parks department have proven their usefulness.

Commissioner Rick Dyer said The Expo and the roads and parks department have been some of the hardest hit county departments when it comes to COVID-19 financial impacts. Yet they've also been among the most helpful and useful.

"I see this as being a very prudent financial move all the way around," Dyer said.

With extra money available, the two departments can attract state and federal grants that require a county match, helping the county's money stretch farther, he said.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she has concerns about waiving the last $1.5 million of the loan, but she agreed to go along with the proposal.

During the pandemic and aftermath of the fires, The Expo has served as a site for everything from COVID-19 vaccination clinics to a fire evacuation shelter.

The parks department's added tasks have included feeding homeless people and helping to restore the burned Bear Creek Greenway and reduce fire danger there.

The RV park is currently full of survivors who lost their homes in the 2020 fires. The state of Oregon is covering the camping fees for the people staying there in RVs and trailers.

The Expo and the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department are expected to operate like enterprise funds, raising money through user fees, grants and other sources to cover their costs instead of relying on tax revenue.

The Jackson County government is in strong financial shape to forgive $1.5 million of the RV park loan. The county has $190.1 million in financial reserves budgeted for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

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