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Jackson County gets millions from state

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneWhile there’s still evidence of the Ameda fire to be seen, construction is going on at several many lots off of Brandon Way in Phoenix.
The Legislature earmarked more than $50 million to help Southern Oregon rebound from wildfires and the pandemic

More than $50 million in state and federal economic relief will soon start pouring into communities ravaged by fire in Jackson County.

“I think we will see the impacts of these investments in every corner of this county,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland. “It’s really an impressive amount.”

The Oregon Legislature passed a raft of wildfire and economic relief bills this session, and the federal government has also provided money to the state to help communities recover from the economic downturn as a result of the pandemic.

The Legislature provided more than $40 million to cover projects in Jackson County, such as helping local higher education hard hit by the pandemic and fires, and local governments struggling to deal with rebuilding efforts.

A firefighter apprenticeship program will receive $2 million.

Ashland, Talent and Phoenix will get a $3 million grant for improvement to a pipeline that transports Medford Water Commission water to these communities.

Jackson County, Phoenix and Talent are getting almost $1.7 million to help building and planning departments that have struggled to keep up with demand after the fire.

Close to $3 million will flow to Jackson County, special districts and cities that saw property tax revenue decline after the fire.

Phoenix was devastated by the Almeda fire, and the city will receive the biggest share of the money, with $13.6 million tapped for a new public safety building. The Charlotte Ann Water District, which serves rural Phoenix, will receive $5 million.

Rogue Community College will get $7,120,000 for a transportation technology center. Southern Oregon University will get $3.5 million to demolish Cascades Hall.

Wildfire relief makes up more than $40 million of the state money coming to Jackson County, but local legislators also have set aside $20.1 million for a range of specific projects in Jackson County, with the money coming from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act signed into law by President Joe Biden this year.

In addition, each representative received $2 million from the federal program, while senators got $4 million. This pot of money provided an additional $10 million for local projects.

Marsh provided $1.8 million for Talent Maker City, an organization that provides hands-on and online education.

Medford organizations received a good chunk from this pot of money.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, provided $1 million for the urban campground for homeless people in Medford. He secured $1.4 million for the Family Nurturing Center and $1.3 million for Armadillo Technical Institute.

Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, provided $1 million in business grants that will be administered by the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

Stark’s share provided $500,000 each to the cities of Central Point and Eagle Point for economic development.

Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, put $1.25 million into various projects that benefit Medford, including sidewalk replacement near schools and in the Liberty Park neighborhood north of downtown.

Wallan set aside $750,000 for preliminary work for a future Interstate 5 overcrossing at South Stage Road that will help stimulate a new business development complex in south Medford and north Phoenix.

In addition to these pots of money, the Legislature set aside almost $600 million for wildfire recovery, prevention and response in the state.

The recovery portion alone amounts to $400 million, while wildfire prevention and response gets $188 million from these pots of money to provide housing and other support to fire victims.

Marsh said a clearer picture of how this money will be divided up will emerge by October, but she said the state is well aware that this county suffered the brunt of the devastation.

“We had a loss of 4,000 houses statewide last year, and 2,500 were in Jackson County,” Marsh said.

Jackson County had already received money for some projects approved by the Legislature to help with the scarcity of affordable housing, which became more acute after the Almeda fire. Marsh said she talked to Gov. Kate Brown recently, and she said the governor was particularly concerned about the housing issues facing Jackson County.

Project Turnkey, a previously approved project, provided money to convert two hotels, one in Medford and the other in Ashland, into emergency housing for wildfire victims and the homeless.

Wallan said she was surprised by how well the money was distributed across the state as part of the so-called “Christmas tree” funding package.

“I don’t know anybody who was unhappy with the way that things got distributed,” Wallan said. “It was a pretty wide-open process.”

Golden said Senate Bill 762, which he sponsored, provides additional dollars for wildfire relief, but it will largely be distributed through various state agencies.

He anticipates a good portion will be handed out in Jackson County, and particularly to communities such as Phoenix and Talent.

Other aspects of the bill should help the county as well, including a small fuels-reduction grant program for small acreages around woodlands.

In addition, there will be money available for community risk reduction, which will provide property-by-property consultation to create defensible spaces.

Golden said there will be property tax relief and building fee relief dollars that will help cities dealing with the aftermath of the Almeda fire.

“It was a pretty productive session,” Golden said. “Of course, everybody didn’t get everything they wanted. But the state is taking recovery seriously.”

He said the decision to hand out dollars for each representative and senator was a good move.

“That made everybody feel included,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.