- a weekly column published in the Siskiyou Daily News
and Schools: Fiscal year 2011-12 is the last
year that the Siskiyou County Road Dept. and our county schools will receive federal
funding from the sun-setting Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act
(SRS.) It is also the last year that emergency, fire, rescue and law enforcement will
receive funds to their budget to somewhat offset the cost of County services for our
federal lands and their visitors. It is the last year that the multi-interest Siskiyou
County Resource Advisory Committee will award grant funds for projects such as habitat
restoration, recreation and fuel reduction on National Forests and adjacent lands.
It is the last year - unless Congress passes H.R. 3599
Siskiyou County has 1,361 miles of roads in its maintained system. 470 of those miles are unpaved. In addition, the County maintains 175 bridges. Funds for road maintenance and construction originate from federal allocations, Senate Bill 42 and from taxes collected on the sale of fuel. The Countys share of the highway users tax is apportioned by population and maintained road mileage. (No property taxes or other general funds are used for the maintenance and improvements of county roads and bridges.)
SRS funds were created to backfill the loss of timber receipts to counties with National Forests. Historically, when lands were reserved as National Forests, Congress recognized that they were removed from settlement and private development that would contribute to local economies and provide a tax base for local services. Siskiyou County has around 63% of its land base reserved as federal or state lands. In recognition of this, in1908, Congress passed a law that specified that 25% of all revenues generated from the multiple-use management of our National Forests would be shared with counties to support roads and schools.
This worked well until the late 1980s, when environmental activism, lawsuits and legal challenges reduced active multiple-use management on our National Forests as well as the amount of revenue that had been shared with counties from the sale of timber and other products. For instance, in 1987, the Klamath National Forest produced 182 MMBF (million board feet) of timber in 2008 it produced 20 MMBF. The Shasta Trinity National Forest produced 208 MMBF in 1987, and 22 MMBF in 2008. The Six Rivers National Forest produced 145 MMBF in 1987 and 8 MMBF in 2008.
SRS allocations were payments based on a formula of the average amount that had been paid through past revenue sharing historically about $5.5 million a year for Siskiyou County Road Dept. and about an equal amount for its schools. Siskiyou County is the one of the highest recipient of funds in the state and the nation. Ironically, past SRS legislation has stepped down the backfill payments under some strange notion that this would wean counties off their dependence on revenue sharing from the productive use of federal forest lands. This failed to recognize the underlying structural flaw of a system that creates small isolated communities permanently bound from any physical or economic growth miles from corridors of transportation which, nonetheless, require local government services.
In fiscal year 2010/11, the Siskiyou County Road Dept. received a total of $9,933,208 in revenue. $2,967,772 of this was from SRS payments leaving $6,965,436. Salaries and benefits for the Department alone come in at $6,663,411, leaving $302,025 total for asphalt, vehicles, rock, gas and office operation. (Keep in mind that staff has already been reduced from 120 full time employees in 1974 to around 85 employees today.)
The consequences of this will be dire. Obviously, there will be little money to maintain roads and available funds will be directed to the highest population areas to provide the greatest benefit. The County will likely be unable to maintain high mountain roads in winter months and most residential and feeder roads will go unplowed or will experience delays in plowing.
H.R. 3599 would continue to ramp down the funding by five percent a year. Fiscal year 2012 would start at a level approximately 46 percent lower than the past highest payment year. It recognizes the structural flaw in expecting the problem to fade away by creating a County Schools and Revenue Trust to provide dependable revenue. This would be supported by an Annual Revenue Requirement (ARR) for each National Forest System unit, based on an average of gross receipts from 1980-2000. Of the ARR, 65% would be shared with the counties through the County Revenue and Schools Trust and 35% would be directed to the federal Treasury. The bill requires that each federally approved Trust Project be subjected to a public comment period and administrative appeal, and required to undergo an environmental report that identifies and mitigates potential environmental impacts. It also requires the full funding of federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for five years.