Not that this is in anyway a revelation but it should be noted that in Coos County our environment has zero advocates sitting on the board of commissioners. The current board’s inability to see the forest for the trees, or should I say timber, has led them to make some fairly curious choices about how to go about bringing in badly needed revenue but first a warning. There is another citizen advisory committee looming on the horizon under the auspices of bringing together a wider pool of brain power tasked with “contingency planning” or more accurately what cuts to services will the public accept when funding reserves dry up in two to three years and how to sell an inevitable increase to income tax. Regrettably, the “wider pool” will no doubt be limited to including the same small collection of “brains” and “ideas” we always see chosen to fill these advisory positions.
This commission like commissions before it is now casting its eye on that little sliver of federal timber known as the Coos Bay Wagon Roads. Barely 5% of the county the CBWR, home to spotted owls and marbled murrelets and other endangered species, is currently managed by the BLM. The CBWR lands are distinct from O&C lands in that the revenues are calculated differently as per the Act of 1939 and distributed proportionately only to Coos and Douglas rather than divvied up between the eighteen O&C counties. This changed, however, when the Coos County commission agreed to accept Secure Rural Schools payments which mysteriously lumped CBWR receipts in with O&C.
Managed under the Northwest Forest Plan the CBWR lands contain all the figurative gold needed to enrich the timber industry and the county coffers if only we could manage locally and harvest under the environmentally indifferent Oregon Forest Practices Act. Tuesday, the commission unanimously agreed to send a letter to Senator Ron Wyden (D) asking him to incorporate Rep Peter DeFazio’s HB 1526 Title III giving management of CBWR to Coos County under the OFPA into his eagerly anticipated forest resources bill. If Wyden accedes to this request Coos County will likely lose the additional option of taxing the CBWR and forever see its fortunes tied to timber receipts.
According to Commissioner Bob Main, the former county assessor, the CBWR would bring in an annual $10 million in property tax revenue if the 1939 Act was enforced leaving at least part of the county’s natural habitat, lungs and freshwater filtering system undamaged. Main told the paper Tuesday that cutting CBWR trees less than 125 years of age under OFPA would “result in $8 million to
$12 million profit per year”. Wyden has already said he is not in favor of transferring management of federal lands and HB 1526 is not expected to pass without major revisions so writing a letter limiting the county’s revenue options seems counter productive.
Commissioner Melissa Cribbins explained the letter as proactively letting Wyden know “what we want.” Who the “we” is isn’t clear because several citizens do not want this but language in the letter resembles an earlier letter instigated by the Coquille Indian Tribe and tabled by the board. Main has previously advocated for co-managing CBWR with the tribe.
The commissions’ sole efforts to bring badly needed revenue into the county thus far is centered on pleading with and waiting on Congress. In an attempt to be responsible the board will now engage an advisory group and some online tools implemented by the same Portland State University group that brought us that underwhelming sales pitch for a county administrator last year. Planning of course is a good thing but the topics bantered around by the commission last Tuesday had to do with cutting services and imposing an income tax to cover mandated public safety requirements. Cribbins did acknowledge a willingness to look at suggestions to bring in revenue but thus far the board has ignored Don Gurney’s proposal to enforce the Act of 1939 and will not touch the glaring disparity between property taxes paid by the average citizen and the timber barons.
Forty-eight percent, more than 490,000 acres of large tract forestland in Coos County pay less than $4 per acre in taxes but last year harvested 215 million BF of timber generating upwards of $120 million and paid less than $2 million in property tax. That is less revenue, ( I am getting the exact number ) than generated by the 20% of federally managed land, consider that the next you hear complaints about federal land grabs. Imposing a 6% severance tax would have generated more than $7 million but the commissioners would prefer to try and move that oozing, festering behemoth known as Congress in an attempt to effectively privatize a little corner of federal land, a mere 5% of the county, than even mention this enormous elephant, this glaring tax inequity standing right here in the room.
Unless you want an additional income tax or to see your services cut while your property taxes continue to rise 3% annually, we need to force this issue either through a citizen initiative or polite protest or downright civil disobedience or all of the above.