Jackson County Board of Commissioners Work Session Notes for 04/05/2022 and Joint Meeting with Josephine County

I observe public meetings of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners (BoC) 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 AND JOSEPHINE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS JOINT MEETING NOTES FOR 04/05/2022

Jackson County in attendance: Dave Dotterer, Commissioner and Chair of BoC, Colleen Roberts, Commissioner, Rick Dyer, Commissioner, Phil Philbrick, County Counsel, and Danny Jordan, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

Josephine County in attendance:  Herman Baertschiger, Jr., Commissioner and Chair of BoC, Darin Fowler, Commissioner and Vice-Chair of BoC, and Daniel Young, Commissioner.

1.  Discussion and Vision Workshop Regarding Rural Broadband Services – Cody Miller, Project Manager, HR Green, Inc., Ed Barrett, VP, Irene Stevens.

[Editor:  The irony of my watching this presentation about Broadband is that I purchase internet services from CenturyLink and pay for 40 Mbps on a DSL line but don’t always receive that level of service.  Today my internet froze repeatedly and I received a notice that my internet connection was unstable.  Because of the constant freezing, I’m going to cut to the chase and give you my impressions rather than the customary detailed notes.]

               –HR Green, Inc. provided several options in providing or facilitating internet service.  JaCo and JoCo both appear to prefer the role of facilitator.  Currently, the state provides money for rural broadband and, if I understood correctly, the carriers apply to the state for grant money.  There is no coordination of projects or pressure from county government to provide internet services to under-served communities.  Moving forward under the Capital Funds grant program and Infrastructure bill grant program money will be allocated to the state who will then open grant opportunities for shovel-ready projects at a local level.

               –Jackson County wants to facilitate grant-funded projects.  Jordan is currently consulting with the CEOs of the providers with regard to their plans for expansion.  The idea is to identify places where the grant funding could improve or expand service where there is not as much of a profit incentive to expand.  They plan to have a list of shovel-ready projects so that as soon as grant money becomes available, they can apply for the grants and then contract with carriers to implement projects. 

               — Josephine County was in agreement with the concept but, in my opinion, seemed farther behind in the process.  In my opinion, we in Jackson County are fortunate to have a professional county executive who is experienced and capable to lead this effort.  Josephine County Commissioners seemed to differ over whether to hire a consultant to help them develop shovel-ready projects.  Their approach was to get all the providers in a room and kick around what to do and what they wanted.  The consultant and Jordan explained to them that the providers are in competition and highly unlikely to want to divulge expansion plans to their competition.  Therefore, individual meetings and discussions need to take place privately.

               — JoCo and Dyer expressed skepticism that the state will actually provide funding to rural Oregon – expecting that the money will be concentrated in Northern Oregon.

               — Jordan explained that we in Southern Oregon are most fortunate to have Rep. Pam Marsh who has lobbied for and brought money to Southern Oregon.  She was instrumental in creating the Broadband Council that is focused on bringing broadband to rural areas.  Jordan feels it will be beneficial for the county to act as the coordinator of grant money to bring more effective service to our area.

               — HR Green explained that the Capital Fund money is likely to be open for grant applications in mid-2023 and the infrastructure bill money following in mid-2024.  They are currently in the rulemaking process.  This allows time for JaCo and JoCo to get shovel-ready projects identified and ready to go by the time the money is available.  That gives us a leg up.

I may have missed something due to my internet freezing, but this is, I think, the gist of the meeting.

WORK SESSION OF THE JACKSON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS:

1.  Update from the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center – Person listed as presenting not available.  Max Bennett, Extension Forester, presented instead.

               — Bennett:  Been with SOREC for 20 years.  His focus is on small woodland owners and rural landowners in general to help with forest health, wildfire and restoration.  Thinning and low-density fire is used for prevention.  Bill and Marie Collins donated forest land near Gold Hill and it is now his classroom.  Has had several sessions on creating fire adapted forests.  Reaches 150 landowners and others.  Employees from Assessor’s office have attended appraisal classes.

               — With drought seeing die-off of trees, primarily Douglas Firs which leads to a buildup of fuels.  Studying how to identify high risk sites and trees and what to do about it. 

               — Working on 2700 acres in West Bear Creek area which is urban interface with Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville and SW Medford.  Treating the forest to protect homes in partnership with Rogue Forest Partners – listed partners including Nature Conservancy, Lomakatsi, Forest Service, ODF and others.  Funded with several million dollars in grants and a $2 million anonymous donation.  The land does not have commercial potential.

               — Jordan:  This program focuses on non-commercial fuels.  Teresa Vonn, our Wildfire Coordinator, is working on this program with aim of reducing fire in the urban interface. (My internet kept freezing)

               — Roberts:  How are you treating the 1700 acres?

               — Bennett:  Treatment is surface and ladder fuels, cut small trees and brush and burn in burn piles.  Costs $800 – $1500 per acre.

               — Jordan:  Saw the map and West Bear Creek is near Talent, Phoenix, SW Medford and Jacksonville – it is the interface for fire mitigation efforts.

               — Roberts:  How much progress has been made?

               — Bennett:  Initial progress is underway.  First got the partnership together and getting grant money.  Jordan interjected that this program will last years.  (A lot of freezing) I think he said it interfaces with O&C land to help protect it and the timberland from fire by reducing fuels.  The committee will select a contractor to do the project.

               — Roberts:  Asked how much of the 2700 acres are O&C land but they couldn’t provide an answer.  Jordan again told her that this isn’t a commercial project so there won’t be bids to cut timber. Roberts wants the timber people at the table.  Jordan again said, it is not a timber sale.  Jordan pointed out that the cost of $800 to $1500 per acre is far less than the cost of burning businesses and homes.  Apparently not hearing Jordan that this is not a timber sale, Roberts again started talking about timber sales.

2.  Report on the Association of Oregon Counties Federal Land Management Subcommittee Meeting – Colleen Roberts, Commissioner.

               — Roberts:  Attended the AOC subcommittee meeting.  Two items on the agenda:  1. Whether to continue the committee or to roll it into the Natural Resources Committee; 2.  Whether to refund the money in the fund (due was collected when the subcommittee was not meeting and no work was being done and no lobbyist was employed.) There was a large attendance but only 18 voting counties.  First motion was to disband the subcommittee which Roberts seconded.  The vote was 9-9 and the legal counsel ruled that it meant the subcommittee would continue.  There was another motion to disband the subcommittee and move it to the Natural Resources committee.  Roberts vociferously opposed that motion.  Pointed out there are a lot of different interests in Natural Resources and a lot of butting of heads.  For example, there are cattle grazing issues.  She voted no and it again was a 9-9 vote.  The subcommittee continues as is.  The point of the subcommittee, per Roberts, was to hire a lobbyist in DC and that was not done.  Gina Nichols promoted the idea of postponing a vote on what to do with the fund until another meeting.  Roberts opposed that, saying she wants the money back, pointing out all the questions she asked about accounting issues and never received an answer and pointing out no lobbyist had been hired.  She made a motion to refund the money.  It passed 15-2.  However, before the money will be refunded it has to go to Natural Resources for approval.  If they approve, it goes on to the Legislative Committee.

               — Dyer raised concerns about the decision that a 9-9 vote to disband was interpreted as meaning the subcommittee continued.  He wondered if they had taken that vote again after the discussion about refunding the money if it might have been more in favor of disbanding.

               — Roberts:  O&C meets most of our needs.  Have a lobbyist and would not be missing anything without the Federal Lands subcommittee.

               — Jordan:  (More freezing so didn’t catch it all) but he said that at the end of a quarter there was $180k in the fund but no accounting for the next quarter and no year-to-date balances.  No interest income posted after 2017.  Says AOC is spending down the fund balances and will have spent $700K within 2 years.  Needs to see the bylaws, which he’s requested from Gina Nichols, in order to determine if they are handling the accounting properly.  They continued to post salary and benefits for an analyst and starting rounding it in 2020 and feels that is cause for concern.  He isn’t sure if they are violating any laws, put in principle it isn’t right that accounting isn’t accurate.  Once he receives the bylaws will be able to determine if any laws are being violated.  Indicated that situation is similar to the Road Fund problem from a few years ago where there was a potential law suit.  Can’t tie records back to a General Ledger.  Are looking at a couple of hundred thousand dollars and it may not be worth filing a law suit over but the principle is important.  Are getting close to when need to decide if will pay dues and a decision will need to be made.

               — There was more discussion along these lines, criticizing the poor accounting procedures.  Need to bring this back to agenda after get more information and decide if continue to pay dues.  Roberts feels strongly they don’t need to continue.  Natural Resources committee might not vote in favor of refunding the money since they’ve been using it for their staff.  Need to see what happens.

Joyce Puccini Chapman

Illegitimi non corborundum
No longer accepting the things I’m told I cannot change.
Now working to change the things I cannot accept.