PORTLAND — Cash-strapped Curry County is considering a sales tax to fill a $3 million gap left by expiration of a federal safety net for timber counties.
A citizens advisory committee included a sales tax in a list of ideas to deal with the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which has been pumping federal money into timber counties since 2000 to make up for logging cutbacks, The Oregonian reported Thursday.
County Commissioner George Rhodes said the board is considering putting the idea to voters on the May ballot.
“If we wait for November, we may have fallen off the cliff by the time we collect any money,” Rhodes said.
Timber counties have been receiving a percentage of revenue from logging in national forests since 1908. But when timber harvests took a nosedive in the 1990s to protect the northern spotted owl and other wildlife and fish, a series of economic safety nets were adopted to cushion the blow. The latest expired last year.
The payments once accounted for 61 percent of the general fund and 65 percent of the road budget in Curry County, located on the Southern Oregon Coast. The economy once depended on commercial fishing and logging but now consists largely of commerce related to tourism and retirement.
It is among a dozen counties facing possible budget deficits in the next two years without a new source of funding. Curry estimates a $3 million deficit for 2013-14.
Curry County has the state’s second-lowest property tax rate, and Rhodes said he doubts voters would approve an increase. A 2010 property tax increase measure was trounced by voters.
Oregon voters have consistently turned down a state sales tax to raise revenue. While two cities tax restaurant sales — Yachats and Ashland — no counties have a sales tax.
Rhodes said he favors exempting groceries, prescription medicine, utility payments and home sales. Tobacco and alcohol are already taxed by the state and would also be exempt.
The advisory committee suggested consolidating services, selling surplus property, improving the Brookings Airport to boost development, increasing permit and license fees, and a modest property tax increase.