County alarmed over state budget

Technical assistance grants not included in Brown’s proposal

Wasco County officials are concerned about the proposed budget presented by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for the 2017-19 biennium, which does not include grants to help local jurisdictions meet statewide land use planning requirements.

Brown’s proposed 2017-19 budget eliminates funds for technical assistance grants in Oregon’s portions of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which have previously been provided through the Oregon Department of Land Conservation & Development.

The DLCD helps cities and counties plan for sustainable urban and rural development with technical assistance and grants that help local governments meet statewide land use requirements.

Brown’s budget shows a total of $20.2 million for the DLCD for 2017-19. In 2015-17, the agency’s budget was $20.7 million. That represents a 2 percent decrease over DLCD’s previous biennial budget.

According to Angie Brewer, planning director for Wasco County, the state budget as proposed would eliminate annual scenic area grants that have been relied upon to help pay for staffing since the early 1990s. Brewer pointed out that these grants have included $45,000 to Wasco County, $40,000 to Hood River County and $35,000 to Multnomah County each year.

Brewer said the six NSA counties (three in Oregon and three in Washington) currently spend more money implementing the scenic area requirements than they are funded for.

“In staff time alone, the last two years of NSA grant reports included expenditures between $50,000 and $85,000 per year for each county,” Brewer explained.

“Loss of these funds would likely result in the land use review capacity being shifted back to the gorge commission for all planning related activities and private development in the NSA.

“At minimum, the loss of these funds will detract from our ability to prepare timely reviews of land use applications and will reduce our ability to continue to provide our current levels of customer service.”

Brewer warned that the lack of grant funding could serve to rescind Wasco County’s NSA ordinance and return NSA

implementation to the Columbia River Gorge Commission. That could create a significant increase in land use applications being processed by a more limited staff.

Brewer said it could also mean the loss of county-wide opportunities to participate in scenic area grants for local business and community projects managed by the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and the Oregon Investment Board.

State Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, said if the budget stands as is, the county could lose funds for staffing or other vital uses related to scenic area work. He pledged to try to get the money back into the budget during the 2017-19 legislative session, which begins Feb. 1.

“As in the past four biennia, I will work through the budgeting process to try to maximize the Oregon share of the (gorge) commission budget,” he said.

“I will again join with Rep. Mark Johnson and Sen. Chuck Thomsen, both of Hood River, to educate our colleagues regarding the commission, what they do and why they need to be funded so the gorge can continue to function and develop.”

Huffman pointed out there could be potentially serious ramifications for The Dalles if this money is not restored to the state’s budget.

“At minimum, any losses in the commission budget reduces the possibilities of moving forward on the urban growth boundary expansion being sought by the city of The Dalles,” Huffman said.

Columbia River Gorge Commissioner Rodger Nichols of The Dalles said he is hopeful regional legislators can convince Gov. Brown to restore the DLCD funds.

“John Huffman, Mark Johnson and Sen. Chuck Thomsen have been strong advocates for the gorge commission in the past,” Nichols said.

Amanda Hoey, executive director of MCCEDD, said her understanding is that the counties implementing the scenic area planning requirements have traditionally received technical assistance funds from Oregon's DLCD.

“The counties are the most effective mechanism for this to occur,” Hoey said, “as they have the trained and knowledgeable individuals to conduct reviews and assist individuals through permit reviews.” MCEDD provides economic development coordination, business assistance and industry development for Wasco, Sherman and Hood River counties in Oregon and Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington.

Hoey said there could be a direct impact on MCEDD’s operations because the agency approves grants and loans in the scenic area that receive gorge commission certification.

“And if their staff is trying to cover the county roles in assessing NSA permitting as well, our projects will likely be delayed in gaining certification,” Hoey said.

“The more important impact is to those seeking to build/construct. Impacts would be to the businesses and residents we assist and to regional objectives to support streamlining regulatory processes.”

Huffman said the next step in the evolution of the state’s budget will come with the release of the Ways & Means co-chairman’s budget on Jan. 19.

“This will allow those of us on Ways & Means subcommittees to begin working on agency budgets with a better idea of what legislative leadership is trying to do, or the direction they want to head as we balance the governor’s ideas of what she wants to see for Oregon, and what legislators believe is in the best interest of Oregonians,” Huffman said.

Hoey said if the lost funding is not restored, the result would be the addition of more process and steps for businesses to jump through, as well as a delay in the timeliness of land use application review and decisions.

“It is already a time-intensive process,” Hoey said. “And without local advocates, it would become ever more challenging.”

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