Counties To Lose As Federal Timber Funds End

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Twelve southeastern Ohio counties could see federal timber-production funds cut as a partnership with the Wayne National Forest heads toward a year-end expiration date.

In total, the counties could lose about $300,000 annually, but officials say the amounts are manageable.
"Ohio counties don't rely much on money from federal forests, but it all adds up," said Rich Alexander, who manages the Secure Rural Schools program for the U.S. Forest Service.
Historically, counties in Ohio and other states that contain federally owned forests received 25 percent of all money generated from the land, mainly from timber production, but also from oil and gas and recreational sites, Alexander said.
But as timber production began to decline amid new environmental regulations, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 to ease the loss of local revenue.
The law gives counties two options for funding. They can continue to receive the 25 percent of all money generated from the land. Or, they can receive funds based on a formula of federal land acres in the county: the average of the past three highest 25?percent payments and an income adjustment based on the per capita personal income for each county, Alexander said.
Of the 12 Ohio counties with federal land, only Lawrence County opted to keep the 25 percent share, bringing in about $12,400 this year.
When the law was amended and re-authorized in 2008, payments were phased out over four years, ending at the end of this year.
Jackson County received about $3,600 this year through the program.
"The engineer used it for some road projects, but it didn't pay for much," said county Auditor Clyde Holdren. "We just keep losing small amounts, but the little money we would lose is not much."
Athens County has 18,633 acres of federal land. This year, the county received just over $40,000 from the fund.
That's money funneled to local school districts and other government subdivisions, funds the county can ill-afford to lose on top of reduced state payments to local governments.
If the timber funding is not renewed, a few people stand to lose their jobs, said Lenny Eliason, Athens County commissioner.
"It's not a lot, but little pieces of money add up to a lot," Eliason said. "You take a brick out of a wall, the wall's going to crumble a little."
The $47,848 that Hocking County got in 2011 for its 26,000 acres of forest land helped pay for textbooks for the Logan-Hocking School District.
"When we receive the money, we put it in our permanent-improvement fund for textbooks," said Paul Shaw, the school district's treasurer. "If we lose the funding, it's that much less money we have to purchase textbooks."
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, supports a continuation of the payment plan.
"A bill that will be introduced later in the year is a compromise that will extend SRS payments for a number of years, though payments will decline 5?percent per year for the duration of the extension," Brown said in a news release last week.
Alex Stuckey is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.