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Special session results mixed on local impact

by: COURTESY OF SEN. COURTNEY'S OFFICE  - The Oregon State LegislatureThe Grand Bargain deal worked out in Salem last week will have significant impact on local schools, city governments, seniors and even on agriculture.

Spreading the impact out gives a clear picture of the magnitude of the special session that took three days to complete.

Education will have the biggest windfall from the short session, although it took $33 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to make the $100 million in K-12 funding possible, said Rep. Betty Komp, whose District 22 includes Woodburn.

Komp voted in favor of each of the five bills presented to the Legislature last week, which included a PERS cost-of-living bill, a revenue bill, education funding and a bill preventing counties from banning genetically modified organisms.

“Every one of these bills – there were things that each of us legislators liked or didn’t like,” said Komp, who serves as co-chair of the Education Subcommittee of Ways and Means and has been appointed on a special task force for education funding through January 2015. “For some of the tax bills, there is a benefit that is coming. But we had a responsibility that we did not want to shut down like the federal government. We had a responsibility to look at least two years down the road.”

In Woodburn and the surrounding area, the bills will have a direct impact. Out of the $100 million, Woodburn School District is expected to receive between $700,000 and $1 million by July 2014 based on its enrollment projections, said Chuck Ransom, superintendent.

That money will allow the district to increase funding in five different areas – wages and benefits, a full school calendar, teacher and administrative staffing, curriculum and materials and technology upgrades, Ransom said.

“I’m very pleased,” Ransom said. “Each of the priorities that we’ve previously identified is going to be bumped up a little bit more.”

The district, which cut eight days last year, is operating on a full calendar this year. However, 11 teacher positions and five out of the eight administrative positions cut last year have not been restored, Ransom said.

“This helps a lot,” he said. “It’s going to allow us to come back.”

Higher education also received a $45 million bump in funding that will help alleviate some of the tuition increases of recent years.

At Chemeketa Community College, the impact of the session is not so much of a game-changer, said Greg Harris, spokesman.

CCC had decided to maintain existing tuition rates this year and the increased funding will not change that decision, Harris said.

“Our board will consider a tuition proposal for next year in February,” Harris said.

Aside from education, Komp cited mental health as a critical success story from the special session.

The state will allocate $20 million from cigarette taxes to be used by the Department of Human Services for mental health funding, Komp said.

“It will help veterans, homeless people or people living in poverty,” she said. “These are people who just haven’t been able to get the mental health care they deserve.”

While not enough to plug the significant gaps in mental care around the state, the funding is a start and is long overdue, Komp said.

What is being allocated, however, will not be enough, said Scott Russell, chief of the Woodburn Police Department.

“We have a big hole in mental health,” Russell said. “I don’t think $20 million will put a mental health crisis worker in every community because that is what is needed. Right now, we have police officers dealing with it.”

Currently, two mental health officers cover Marion County.

That is not enough to provide county-wide assistance when WPD alone responds to at least five mental health crisis-related incidents per week, Russell said.

“It might take two or three weeks to get someone to come out and visit,” he said. “The bottom line is, we’re thankful for the money, but it doesn’t appear to be a game changer.”

Seniors, particularly retired state government workers, will be impacted directly by last week’s special session.

The Legislature lowered the annual cost-of-living rate from 2 percent guaranteed to 1.25 percent per year, which will lower payments to retirees already in the PERS system.

“Yeah, it’s going to affect me,” said Ken Bourne, president of The Estates Golf & Country Club board of directors.

Bourne worked 37 years in the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife before retiring in December 2011.

He estimated the drop in COLA rates will cost him $400 per year.

“You’re counting on that,” he said. “Every little cut kind of hurts.”

PERS rates paid by city governments, meanwhile, are estimated to top out at 2 percent, which was lower than projected.

For employers such as the city of Woodburn, that reduces the rate that they will have to pay in the future, said Christina Shearer, finance director for the city.

The projection will have no impact on the 2013-15 biennium, Shearer said.

“The rates that we are expected to pay in the future are likely to be lower than in the past,” she said. “But PERS is still a considerable concern and it will be until the market recovers for a longer period of time.”

Certain small businesses, meanwhile, should see their income tax drop from 9 percent to 7.6 percent for the next six years, Komp said.

“The business community had been working with members of the revenue committee,” she said. “Businesses carried a heavy burden to keep us afloat during the recession. This is the agreement we came to create more jobs in Oregon and help small businesses grow.”



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Woodburn

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  • 21 Nov 2014

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  • 22 Nov 2014

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