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Speech Guest Spotlights Timber Payments

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CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. – Rural Oregon counties struggling from the loss of federal timber payments will have a seat at the table during Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.

Jennifer Phillipi, co-owner of the Rough & Ready mill in Cave Junction, will be a guest of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) during the speech. Rough & Ready closed in April 2013 after being in business for more than 90 years, and more than 80 people were laid off. Phillippi blamed the closure on a lack of available timber in southwest Oregon, caused by increased federal restrictions.

“In a really bad way, it represents what happens with the shutdown of the federal forests,” Phillippi said.

Phillippi hopes Walden can shine a spotlight on the plight of rural counties who had either counted on logging or federal “O & C” payments to make up for it.

“[Walden] recognized the problems we’ve had for the past 25 years trying to access the public timber,” Phillipi said.

Josephine County has been hit particularly hard by reductions in federal timber payments. Tuesday, Sheriff Gil Gilbertson gave a presentation to the Josephine County Rotary Club about the current state of public safety. He explained that prior to 2012, the sheriff’s office received a little more than $6 million in federal dollars. After 2012, it received none.

As a result, the number of employees in the sheriff’s office dropped from 98 to 44, including just two patrol deputies. Now, the sheriff’s office no longer has the staff to respond to property crimes.

“Primarily what we deal with is crimes in progress and crimes against persons,” Gilbertson said.

“What can two people do? It’s very restrictive.”

The numbers haven’t been any better in Jackson County. According to County Administrator Danny Jordan, Jackson County received a little more than $19 million in federal “O & C” funding in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. That money went to the county’s general fund, the roads fund, and other special projects. But over the past five years, the numbers have dropped significantly; in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, those funds dropped to a little over $5 million.