Jackson County Board of Commissioners Work Session Notes for 03/22/2022

I observe public meetings of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners (BoC) on a regular basis and make the notes I take during the proceedings (which are neither quotes nor a transcript) available to others.  I do this as an individual, believing in open government and the public’s right and need to know.  I declare that, although I try to be as accurate and objective as possible, errors may occur; therefore, readers should verify any information I report that is of interest to them by listening to the meeting audio  themselves.  The recordings are made available on the Jackson County website sometime after the meeting, usually the same day.

Jackson County BoC Work Session Notes for 03/22/2022.  In attendance: Dave Dotterer, Commissioner and Chair of BoC, Colleen Roberts, Commissioner, Rick Dyer, Commissioner, Joel Benton, County Counsel, and Danny Jordan, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

1.  Presentation from Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) regarding the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery Grant – Alex Campbell, Regional Solutions Coordinator, Office of Governor Brown.

               — Campbell:  Corrected the title listed in Agenda.  He is no longer a part of the Governor’s office and is now OHCS Chief External Affairs Officer on a full-time basis.  He began a slide presentation.  HUD is the source of the grant funds and has rules on how to handle them.  OHCS needs to develop 1. Guiding Principles; 2. Action Plan; Rules and requirements, focuses on fire survivors; Need to determine unmet needs.

               — Governor Brown directed HUD to OHCS to develop the program. The guiding principles advocate for equity and racial justice, especially since those most impacted have to access to FEMA relief and are part of the Latinx community.  This is a common pattern in disasters since the most vulnerable among us are often housed in low-lying areas that are more vulnerable to disasters.  In the Almeda fire the majority of homes lost were manufactured homes.  They want to Build Back Better and help all to become more resilient for the next disaster.  Housing is a huge component in creating resiliency as is community recovery and they go together.

               — Campbell showed the timeline for what HUD requires.  Currently working on needs assessment and will have a subcommittee of elected officials, primarily legislators in affected areas, meet to discuss resource allocation and then draft an Action Plan by May 2.

               — May 2:  Public Comment for 30 days on draft plan.

               — June 8:  Plan to go to HUD for review and approval.

               — Aug.:  Expect HUD approval by early August.

               — Total CDBG grant money available is $422,286,000.  80% of the money must be spent in fire affected counties. He showed a map of counties where there were wild fire disasters.  70% must benefit low to moderate income people.  50% of it to be spent on mitigation – e.g., new housing that is built should be built to higher fire resiliency standards and hardened against fire.  It may be possible to obtain exceptions to the income requirements under certain circumstances.  Income maximums range from $38,300 for one person to $54,650 for a family of 4, going up to $63,400 for a family of 6.  He acknowledged that the data they are working with is not as good as he’d like but using census data.  He indicated that approximately half of those needing help meet the income requirements.

               — Campbell:  Continued saying will address housing issues first; then unmet needs; infrastructure; and economic revitalization.  Usually, CDBG grants don’t provide for direct state program, but in this situation, it can be done.  Once they figure out where to spend the money, they will discuss with local governments whether they want to be the front face for intake for fire survivors but suggested that it might be likely to have processing handled at the Salem level because of all of the complicated needs imposed by HUD.  Dotterer asked if the Long-Term Recovery Group might be one of those face, and Campbell said yes.  Jordan asked questions about multiple CDBG grant rules and whether this program is over and above those rules.  Dotterer asked about mitigation costs and how they could be spent.  Campbell gave the example that a water project might be part of mitigation with added costs to fortify it against a Cascadian event might qualify.  Mitigation doesn’t appear to be required to be related to wild fire only.  More back and forth with technical questions.  Dyer wanted to know if housing would be publicly owned – no.

               — (An interesting exchange to me) Jordan pointed out that Talent is trying to create housing and other infrastructure that could be covered by this grant program through the Talent Urban Renewal (TURA).  He asked Campbell if they will double-fund Talent by making a grant to them to cover the same thing they are already doing, pointing out that they plan to raise $67 million through TURA and taxing base.  Campbell says he has a work session next week with Talent.  Jordan pushed on this issue again later in the discussion, noting that if a big grant were available to Talent, they might want to re-think how they are funding their project other than through TURA.

               — Campbell had another slide about housing an unmet need.  He estimates the average cost to rebuild — $304,831. [Editor: Think about that and affordable housing.  The $304k is building, not the cost of the lot, so new homes clearly are going to cost more than that if someone wants to buy.  Ouch!].  He estimates it will cost over $1.3 billion to replace all the housing lost.  Funding to do that can come from a variety of sources – FEMA, SBA, state, private insurance.

               — Jordan asked how the money would be allocated.  He pointed out that the largest percentage of loss is here in Jackson County. Will they allocate the money based on that?  He noted that typically, more money goes to northern counties and hopes that they will do it more fairly.  Campbell says they haven’t figured that out yet.  There were more questions and the answer fairly consistently was they don’t know yet.  Jordan and the commissioners pushed for Jackson County to receive a lion’s share of the funds based on our massive losses.  The questions and answers continued and got into details difficult for me to follow or relay here.

               — There will be a rulemaking process and Jordan asked that the Action Plan come back to Jackson County before becoming final and being submitted to rulemaking.  Dyer observed that we need to have a real idea of how much money will be coming here so know how to plan.  Jordan asked if the money could be used to pay bond debt.  Campbell will look into it.  Jordan urged him to make sure he understands what is actually going on.  There are all sorts of groups doing projects, including Talent and it makes no sense to provide grants to projects already funded.  He feels this program could be a means for Talent to accomplish its goals without using TURA.

               — More questions about economic revitalization and whether funds can be used for debt service.  Presentation ended with Campbell saying he’d come back.  [Editor: Note that Jordan indicated at one point that 80% of loss was here.  If that is so and funds are allocated according to that basis, we are potentially looking at $422 million X 80% = $337 million.  It will be interesting to see what happens when legislators meet to discuss allocation.]

2.  Update from the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center – Gordon Jones, Commercial Agriculture.

               — Jones:  Been here since 2017.  Before he arrived, he thought he needed to know about vegetables, pears and wine grapes and then hemp came; Covid hit; wild fires and now drought.  There has been a lot of work to do.

               — Jones showed a chart of acres of hemp in state – 2019 – 64,000; 2020 – 27,000; 2021 – 8,000 acres.  He helped put together a Southern Oregon Hemp Growers Assn and Zoom meetings that are attended by as many as 400 people from 15 states and 6 countries.  Currently, back to in-person plus Zoom so that local people can attend, but so can people in remote parts of the county without driving in.  Topics covered include soils, erosion, varieties of plants, pest management, ODA, Code Enforcement, and even the Fire District has given a presentation.  Also discuss processing and economics of production.  Legal growers are concerned about illegal operations.  Have had conversations with the Sheriff.  They are pleased and optimistic about increased enforcement.  JaCo and JoCo have a small number of good legal hemp growers.  They are helping parse the difference between legal and illegal grows.  Legal are mainly interested in CBD production and a few other cannabinoids.  They supply product for oils and gummies.  Of the 8,000 acres of hemp statewide, approximately 3,000 acres are in JaCo and JoCo.  Noted that he thought about 50% were illegal but Dyer corrected him, saying it was 75%.  Jones noted that there are also a lot of grows that are completely outside of the licensing structure.

               — Discussion re irrigation districts and efficiency of piping and pressurizing water flow as opposed to allowing water to flow through irrigation ditches.  Jones says that when a farmer goes from flood irrigation to sprinklers, it costs a good amount of money and there are electrical and other ongoing costs that they didn’t have with flood irrigation.  While sprinklers are more efficient and save more water, the way that irrigation districts distribute the water makes it difficult for him to recommend doing it.  Right now, the water is turned on and flows through ditches.  If a farmer uses less water because of sprinklers or other efficiencies, he does not get the benefit of the savings.  When the water is turned off, it is off.  Under a pressurized piping system, water is controlled by gauges and a farm’s allocation of water can be saved and used when   drought problem.  Flood irrigation results in seepage and theft and spillage which is avoided in pressurized piping system.  Dyer asked about grant programs to help irrigation districts and Jones says some are available.  Dotterer asked if any drought relief money is being spent on irrigation districts.  Jones says that the Rogue River Irrigation District got a grant to pipe a large section.  It is a huge project and requires cooperation with 3 different irrigation districts.

               — Jordan observed that it might be best to modernize the Talent Irrigation District.  Asked if doing so would help us get through a drought year like this.  Jones replied that there need to be strategies in place to fill reservoirs in rainy years and to not drain them completely in drought years.  More discussion along these lines.  Dyer asked about vineyards doing dry farming.  Jones explained that in some locations (I think he meant up north) soil is deep enough to hold water.  Around here, most need additional water. He isn’t aware of any dry farming in our valley.  Dotterer asked if they should be advocating for making systems more efficient.  Jones feels the answer is yes.

               — Roberts pointed out there are concerns about piping and its effect on water table.  Some wells are replenished by seepage from flood irrigation.  Jones acknowledged that leakage causes us to have a greener valley.  He understands the complaints of some in Ashland who are against piping their irrigation canal.  Doing so might cause trees and other vegetation to die because they won’t be watered through seepage and leaks.  So, there are issues about providing water to business farms vs. other needs.

               — Jordan asked about the calculation of agricultural losses if water is cut off in July.  Jones says that Harry & David didn’t harvest pears in the Talent Irrigation District (TID). He gets nervous about supplying water to them because H&D doesn’t need to be here just to make their popcorn.  They need the pears.  He mentioned that H&D may be buying property along the Rogue River so they have a water supply for orchards.  They thanked him for the update.

3.  COVID-19 Update

               — Jordan says he will be taking this off as a regular agenda item.  Will put it on if something develops.  Says the state plans to keep the testing and vaccination center in Medford open for a while in anticipation of vaccination for children 5 and under being approved. Will see how it goes after that.

               — Dotterer looked today and Asante has taken down their COVID-19 Dashboard.  Dyer noted that statewide there are under 200 people hospitalized for COVID-19.  Also noted that BA-2 is coming and we may not be done yet.

Nothing for Executive Session and meeting ended.