Southern Oregon county banks last of federal timber money

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- One of Oregon's rural counties struggling with declining federal timber payments has decided to bank what may be the final infusion of federal safety net money rather than make room for more crooks in the jail.

The Grants Pass Daily Courier reports Josephine County commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to save almost all the $4.7 million authorized by Congress to spend next year on maintaining the current level of jail space, sheriff's patrols and county prosecutors. They have yet to decide what to do with $700,000 of the money and are likely to take up the issue next week.

There had been talk about using $500,000 to open up more room in the jail, which has been cut back to just 30 beds for local use since taxpayers turned down a tax increase for public safety.

Commissioner Don Reedy’s motion to fund 19 more jail beds and add a half-time deputy for court security died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Simon Hare said he couldn’t support spending the money when the sheriff’s office has failed to get the federal government to pay a higher rate for renting jail beds.

The county jail had to turn lose 100 inmates last May due to layoffs and budget cuts after voters turned down a $12 million levy to pay for law enforcement. Sheriff’s patrols, juvenile justice services, and the district attorney’s office were cut to the bone. Since the cutbacks, the numbers of people facing criminal charges who fail to come to court has skyrocketed. People arrested on burglary charges get cited and released because there is no room to hold them.

In 1991, the county saw a sharp drop in its share of federal timber revenues due to logging cutbacks on federal lands to protect the northern spotted owl and salmon, resulting in similar cuts. Subsidies in place of the payments that were enacted by Congress in 2000 expired last year. Since then, a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act sent $4.7 million to Josephine County, but no one expects to see any more money where that came from.