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Congress moves forward with county funding

Elected leaders in Washington D.C. are moving forward with legislation to extend critical funding for Baker County and other Oregon counties.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., today announced that he has secured a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for local schools, roads, and law enforcement in Oregon’s rural forested communities.

“Last December, Speaker Boehner and I committed to extending this lifeline for rural Oregon communities by March 31. Today, we fulfill that commitment. My Oregon colleague Peter DeFazio deserves credit, too, for working with his leadership to support including this provision,” Walden stated in the press release. 

“This two-year extension gives us time to continue work on a long-term plan to reform federal forest policy to grow jobs in the woods, improve forest health, and provide certainty for essential local services like schools and roads,” he stated. 

The Associated Press reported today the House will vote on the bill Thursday.

In the Senate, an amendment to the federal budget bill that would reauthorize federal money tied into the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act has been approved by the Senate Budget Committee according to a press release from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s, D-Ore. office.

“It is good news the House Leadership has decided to stop playing politics with the safety net for Oregon counties,” Wyden stated in the press release. “Their decision is a concrete recognition that linking the safety net to unsustainable and unacceptable logging practices can never become law.” 

Wyden and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced a bill to extend the county payments program last month. He authored the original SRS program with then Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in 2000. Since then it has brought more than $2.8 billion to rural Oregon counties.

Last year the SRS program funded about $107 million to Oregon counties.

“As the author of the bipartisan Secure Rural Schools program, I’m pleased to report progress in the Senate: an 18 to 4 vote in favor of a three-year reauthorization of SRS in the Budget Committee and a bipartisan bill with Senator Crapo for three-year reauthorization and restoration of PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes,” Wyden stated. “I will continue to pursue at every opportunity and on every piece of must-pass legislation, this lifeline for Oregon counties.”

(PILT are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable Federal lands within their boundaries.)

Baker City Town Hall with Greg Walden

U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) held his 17th town hall meeting in Oregon Saturday at the Veterans Advocate Center of Oregon-Idaho in Baker City.

It was his 90th town hall meeting in the state since the beginning of 2012.

Walden started off by talking about how most of Eastern Oregon is in a state of emergency due to drought.

“I wish there was more snowpack out in the hills around here,” he said. “With spring officially here ... I think our opportunity for snowpack is pretty limited.”

Walden then talked about forestry issues in Eastern Oregon.

“There has been a lot of controversy about how they are managed -— or not managed,” he said.

SRS program in limbo

A fiscal storm hovers on the horizon for Baker County and whether or not that squall descends in the next year will depend on what elected leaders in Washington, D.C., do or do not do.

This particular fiscal gale revolves around federal money tied into the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act (SRS). The program, fashioned in 2000 and more commonly known as “county payments,” has evolved into a critical cash lifeline for rural counties across the nation.

The program was created in part to offset the loss of revenue generated from timber sales. 

Yet the Secure Rural Schools program is now in limbo. Bipartisan legislation to renew the program was introduced in February pushed by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, one of the architects of the program, and Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo.

Last week Wyden introduced an amendment to the federal budget bill that would renew SRS for another year as well as another crucial source of revenue for Baker County: PILT — Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

Drought concerns deepen in Baker County

County Commissioners Ask State For Drought Declaration

By Jayson Jacoby

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Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett is looking at the mountains near his ranch and what he sees is trouble.

Or rather, what he doesn’t see.


BHS student files for school board position

A Baker High School student is running for a position on the Baker School Board.

Forest Service will wait on Travel Management Plan until forest plan revisions are finished

The controversial proposal to ban motor vehicles on some roads and trails on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest will be delayed until the Forest Service has finished writing new management plans for the Wallowa-Whitman and the two other national forests in Northeastern Oregon. 

SWAT team responds to Huntington after man threatens to harm himself, others

By Chris Collins

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A SWAT team was deployed to Huntington Wednesday night on reports that a resident who wrecked his vehicle earlier in the day was threatening to harm himself and others.

MayDay seeks volunteers for phone crisis line

MayDay, Inc., the Baker City nonprofit that helps victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and elder abuse, needs volunteers to answer a crisis phone line that's available 24 hours a day.

Wyden asks BLM to extend comment period for Boardman-to-Hemingway power line

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. has asked the BLM to extend the comment period, which is scheduled to end today, for the proposed Boardman-to-Hemingway power line.

Baker County seeks drought disaster declaration

Baker County Commissioners on Wednesday voted to ask Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency this year in the county.

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